cover image The Minister Primarily

The Minister Primarily

John Oliver Killens. Amistad, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-307959-5

Killens (1916–1987), a member of the Black Arts movement and author of And Then We Heard the Thunder, cleverly satirizes 1960s American politics in this sharp thriller. Jaja Okwu Olivamaki, prime minister of the Independent People’s Democratic Republic of Guanaya, sees his country lifted from obscurity after a great quantity of the radioactive metallic element cobanium is found there, making it the newest front in the Cold War. African-American musician James Jay Leander Johnson travels to Guanaya to learn “the folk songs of his people,” only to become a suspect in a plot to murder Olivamaki. Johnson’s life takes an even stranger detour after his resemblance to his supposed target leads to his being asked to impersonate the nation’s leader, a pretense he must maintain on a state visit to the U.S. Killens is pointed in his barbs; when the imposter is asked his opinion of Malcolm X, he declares he believes in the same kind of nonviolence the U.S. does: “I believe we should keep everybody nonviolent, even if we have to blow them off the face of the earth, in the American tradition.” Throughout, Killens maximizes the potential of his plot with outrageous humor. Readers will be glad to find this gem unearthed. (July)