2018-09-13 / Opinions

Book Review

The King Who Made Paper Flowers

Wilkes County folks think of Terry Kay as a neighbor. Though he lives in Atlanta now, he was born in Royston, Ga. In fact, the first book by him (and it was his first) that this reader encountered was The Year the Lights Came On, an account of what it was like when electricity arrived there.

The King Who Made Paper Flowers is his 14th book. It takes place in Savannah. It is narrated by Hamby Cahill and includes a host of delightful characters. Kay states in the opening “Author’s Note” that characters have always come first for him, before story. Certainly that seems true here. The plot, though absorbing, meanders a bit, but the reader cares about what happens to these attractive people. Not everyone might consider them attractive. The fictional mayor of Savannah definitely does not. Hamby is a sort of street person who makes a little money doing magic tricks for any audience he can gather. He would be homeless, but he has fortunately landed with a small group of friends in the “Castle,” a sort of warehouse. Lady Melinda McFadden claims it as her own, and has invited four people (including Hamby) to be her “guests.”

Lady, full of charm, but rather unstable, is beloved by her guests, but no one seems to be sure that she really owns the building. They have gathered a few furnishings and at least have a roof over their heads. The occupants are Carrie, Gerty, and Leo, whom we get to know well as the story continues. They are joined by Arthur Benjamin, whom Hamby meets at the bus station as he arrives in Savannah, and invites to the Castle.

Hamby is very ashamed that he has stolen money from Arthur when they met. He has never stolen before, but cannot resist the wad of bills that Arthur reveals. When a policeman accuses Hamby of the theft, Arthur says it was definitely not Hamby. From then on, those bills play a part in the story, as Arthur and Hamby pass them back and forth surreptitiously.

The money is a minor part in the plot, though. Arthur turns out to be a gentle, kind man who can make beautiful flowers out of scraps of paper. He gives them away, lovingly, and becomes famous in the city and is even nominated for mayor. Meanwhile, the real mayor (who is the villain) wants to put the whole Castle group in jail. He thinks the homeless are a blight on the land, and Arthur in particular is a thorn in his side.

The King Who Made Paper Flowers is about people who care for one another. Kay’s theme is the powerful vs. the powerless, the haves vs. the have-nots. The reader is hopeful about who will win, but the way forward is strewn with obstacles.

The book is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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