Paperback: 343 pages
Publisher: Blue Nile Press; first edition (June 6, 2014)
Often, fiction can be confusing when the author loses his way. That is not the case with Prodigal’s author, David Covin, Emeritus Professor of Government and Pan African Studies at California State University, even as he attempts to stuff as much cultural seasoning and action as possible into this bloated plot. The reader, once strapped in, is just encouraged to hold on and go hell-bent for the thrill ride.
Following a little prelude on a picturesque beach in Salvador, the book really gets down to business, with a gangsta-wannabe, James, a tall hunky sort, trying to better himself in the shadow world of Chicago. He is tired of menial jobs, earning minimum wage, and wants to break out of his rut. The young man, along with Puddin’ Waters, belong to a gang, the Brown Bombers, who rumbled with other gangs including The Diamond Ladds. In this neighborhood, young black teens had to keep fighting to survive.
However, the golden era of the Bombers ended with James and Flyboy dropping out, Puddin’ toiling at a machine shop, and Curt going off to the Army. Desperate, James needed money and lots of it. His parents didn’t finish school, struggling to eke out a living. James started work at a fish market but soon quit after making more cash from running numbers. He meets a lovely girl, Alba, and although she is attracted to him, she cannot be truly be his, for she would share his criminal life.
In Chicago, James graduates to being a full-out drug dealer in a bloody turf with territory carved up between the Blackstone Rangers and the Vice Lords. A friend, Beverly Chase, warns him he should leave town because it is getting too hot for him. She also says some deadly Cleveland gangsters want to muscle in on his highly profitable business and would kill him. After a near-miss on his life, the gangsta teams with his friend to get abroad a freighter to a place, Terra de Felicidade, where he begins a series of new adventures in Latin America.
Here, Covin delves into the spiritual and cultural atmosphere of Latin America, namely Salvador and Brazil, making the connection between the youthful wolf packs and the street gangs of Chicago. The reader will enjoy the antics of Tido, Claudio, and Flauvio as they rescue the man from the Mother of the Sea. And the wealth of information which the author shapes the story with spark and color of cultural gems as Yemenja, capoeira, quilombo, and the orixas shines through, tempting the reader to investigate them more completely. Covin, an expert in these matters, connects the dots between the spiritual and cultural realms between Latin America and Africa, so it is not impractical when James winds up in Nigeria, on his quest to redemption.
In this tale of identity and cultural salvation, Covin displays his incredible capacity to give us a brief history lesson wrapped in a glittering jacket of contemporary urban fiction. It is often brilliant, aware, informative, and somewhat cluttered. If a reader submits to Covin’s commanding will and imagination, Prodigal will be an unforgettable, fulfilling experience.
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