Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar: I See the Promised Land (3 stars)

Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar: I See the Promised Land

Mystical graphic novelisation inspired by the life Martin Luther King

(Tara Books)

The life and times of saints and heroes have long been the base for storytelling traditions. With I See the Promised Land, African-American writer and blues singer Arthur Flowers repositions civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s story into an eastern tradition where destiny, gods and fate are at play. It’s an interesting if not entirely successful transgression.

Working with Bengali artist Manu Chitrakar, Flowers boldly presents King’s life as a cosmological event, one imbued with signs, wonders and divine tragedy. It’s all a bit of a stretch for the modern western reader, more used to secular schematics. The thing to bear in mind, however, is that Chitrakar is a Patua scroll artist. Patuas wander from village to village singing songs and explaining Hindu legends with the help of scrolls. The nearest comparison we have is the craftspeople that created the Bayeux tapestry or Grayson Perry. The flow of history and the ascent of astrology are everything in this context.

There is no denying the distinction of Flowers and Chitrakar’s interpretation of a well-known life story, yet Flowers’ narrative fails to hold the reader. It’s as though the intervention of kismet is too much, even when we know the outcome.

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