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Joplin's Ghost

Tananarive Due
Atria (496 p)
$25. ISBN: 0743449037
(October 2005)

book cover Phoenix Smalls is young, beautiful, and a talented singer/musician who has abandoned her unique R&B-based music to embrace a chance at superstardom offered by rap mega-mogul G-Ronn. On the brink of getting everything she thinks she wants, Phoenix encounters (actually re-encounters) the ghost of Scott Joplin, the black musical genius deprived of the attention and acclaim his music deserved by a racist society. Their parallel stories fascinate as the author details both the badass gangsta-and-bling L.A. music scene and the true story of Joplin's life of devastating loss and denied talent. Due also has a knack for making the supernatural as everyday as MickeyD's while still delivering the chills. As Joplin's unsettled spirit begins to dominate Phoenix, her sanity, career, and life itself are threatened as the determined ghost seeks to live through the young woman and find new recognition for his music, including a lost opera. Scott Joplin's tragic life is juxtaposed with his place and influence in history and therein lies the real magic of the novel. At the story's climax Phoenix reveals to the tortured soul just how much he "mattered" as she lets him "hear" the musicians who came after him -- Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Billy Holiday, James Brown, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Leotyne Price, Bob Marley, OutKast, and a few dozen more -- who shaped the world we now live in. Due weaves her own spell by making Phoenix so real you want to go buy her latest CD and supporting her with a strong cast of characters including her childhood-love-returned, Carlos Harris, her loyal-but-lazy cousin Gloria Katz, and especially her industry-savvy, ex-Black Panther father Marcus "Sarge" Smalls, who is both overprotective of and ambitious for his daughter. Joplin's Ghost is entertaining, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enthralling storytelling. -- (inexplicably missing from the CFQ Jan/Feb 2006 issue, so original to site)