Review: The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule

I appreciate books that are hard to categorize because they cross genres. Not surprisingly, this debut novel by Blitz Bazawule, a musician, artist, and filmmaker, does exactly that.

The Scent of Burnt Flowers tells the story of a young Black couple, Melvin and Bernadette, who flee the United States in 1966, after a violent altercation with a racist white mob. They go to Ghana to seek refuge from President Kwame Nkrumah, who was a close college friend of Melvin’s.  This story combines elements of history (you can learn more about Nkrumah here), a detective thriller (the couple are hunted by a renegade CIA agent), and magical realism (Bernadette is a “water baby”, her mother having died at her birth and turned into a mermaid).  It’s also a “journey” novel, as Melvin and Bernadette make their way across Ghana in search of their friend. With all this, it’s a fast-moving book that’s humorous at times but also very dark.

One thing I appreciated is the way Bernadette’s relationship with Melvin develops. She’s an independent, opinionated woman who finds herself following Melvin’s lead, and as their situation becomes more desperate, she has to figure out how to take control of her own life.

For those who like to read books set in other countries, as I do, it’s a really interesting look at the early days of Ghana’s independence. A lot is covered in this short novel.  Bazawule seems to be aiming more for the atmosphere of the time, the political unrest and instability, as the people of the country alternate between excitement in their recent independence and disappointment in their President.

I read this book knowing nothing about the author, but I was fascinated to learn about Bazawule, and  how much of himself he brought to this journey across Ghana and the character of the musician Kwesi Kwayson.  Bazawule is from Ghana and lived in the U.S. during college, so his comparisons of Ghana and the U.S. are grounded in his own experiences.  There’s also a lyrical quality in this book that makes sense given the author’s musical talents. 

I considered whether this novel tries to do too much and cover too many topics, without fully engaging the reader in depth. Certainly, the characters could be more fleshed out, the magical realism feels a bit abrupt at times rather than integrated in the story, and I would have loved to know much more about Ghana and Nkrumah. This is the kind of novel where I needed to look things up to learn more about them after I finished the book. Still, I’m surprised by how much history, drama, suspense and beauty Bazawule was able to thread together in a fairly short novel. It’s the kind of book that leaves you wanting more. 

Note: I received an advanced review copy of this novel from NetGalley and publisher Ballantine.  This book published June 28, 2022.

  4 comments for “Review: The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule

  1. July 9, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    There’s some interesting stuff about Ghana in Maya Angelou’s “All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes” – the whole book is set there and outlines both the history and what it was like to be there in the 1960s. I think I’d need something without magical realism if I was reading a novel about those times, to be honest. But an interesting concept.

  2. laurareadingbooksagain
    July 30, 2022 at 9:46 am

    Your review had me interested until you mentioned magical realism. I am not fond of it but thanks for your review.

  3. August 13, 2022 at 5:17 am

    This sounds so good!

    Thanks for sharing this with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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