Plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield’s intense grief over losing her daughter crosses the line into madness when she takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague that is sweeping through the plantation’s slave quarters, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave woman known as a healer who immediately senses a spark of the same gift in Granada. Soon, a domestic battle of wills begins, leading to a tragedy that weaves together three generations of strong Southern women.
Rich in mood and atmosphere, The Healing is a powerful, warmhearted novel about unbreakable bonds and the power of story to heal.
About the Author
JONATHAN ODELL is the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, his home state. His short stories and essays have appeared in numerous collections. He spent his business career as a leadership coach to Fortune 500 companies and currently resides in Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Ella was awake when she heard the first timid knock at the cabin door. Her husband, who lay beside her on the corn-shuck mattress, snored undisturbed. She kept still as well, not wanting to wake the newborn that slept in the crook of her arm. The baby had cried most of the night and had only just settled into a fitful sleep. Ella couldn’t blame the girl for being miserable. The room was intolerably hot.
Like everybody else in the quarter, Ella believed the cholera was carried by foul nocturnal vapors arising from the surrounding swamp, so she and Thomas kept their shutters and doors closed tight against the night air, doing their best to protect their daughter from the killing disease that had already taken so many.
The rapping on the door became more insistent. Ella pushed against Thomas with her foot. On the second shove he awoke with a snort.
“Thomas! See to the door,” she whispered, “and mind Yewande.”
Wearing only a pair of cotton trousers, Thomas eased himself from the bed and crossed the room. He lifted the bar and pulled open the door, but his broad muscled back blocked the visitors’ faces. From the flickering glare cast around her husband, Ella could tell one of the callers held a lantern.
“Thomas,” came the familiar voice, “get Ella up.”
Ella started at the words. It was Sylvie, the master’s cook. The woman lived all the way up at the mansion and would have no good reason to be out this time of night unless it was something bad.
“Now?” Thomas whispered. “She’s sleeping.”
“She needs to carry her baby up to the master’s house,” Sylvie said. “Ella got to make haste on it. Mistress Amanda is waiting on her.”
“What she wanting with my woman and child in the dead of night?” Ella heard the alarm rising in her husband’s voice.
“Thomas, you know it ain’t neither night nor day for Mistress Amanda. She ain’t slept a wink since the funeral. And she’s grieving particular bad tonight. Her medicine don’t calm her down no more. She ain’t in no mood to be trifled with.”
“Old Silas,” Thomas pled to another unseen caller, “you tell the mistress that Ella will come by tomorrow, early in the morning.” Then he dropped his voice to a hush. “You know the mistress ain’t right in her head.”
Old Silas had more pull than anybody with the master, but from the lack of response, Ella imagined Silas’s gray head, weathered skin stretched tight over his skull, shaking solemnly.
Thomas let go a deep breath and then turned back to his wife. Behind him, Ella could hear the talk as it continued between the couple outside.
“You know good and well she didn’t say to fetch Ella,” Old Silas whispered harshly to his wife. “Just the baby, she said. What’s in your head?”
“Shush!” Aunt Sylvie fussed. “You didn’t see what I seen. I know what I’m doing.”
Ella met them at the door holding the swaddled infant. Not yet fourteen, Ella wore a ripped cotton shift cut low for nursing, and even in the heat of the cabin, she trembled. The yellow light lit the faces of the cook and her husband.
“What she want with Yewande?” Ella whimpered. “What she going to do to my baby?”
“Ella, she ain’t going to hurt your baby,” Sylvie assured. “Mistress wouldn’t do that for the world.”
Old Silas reached out and laid a gentle hand on Ella’s shoulder. “I expect she wants to name your girl, is all.” His voice was firm but comforting. He spoke more like the master than any slave. “That right, Sylvie?”
“Of course!” Sylvie said, as if hearing the explanation for the first time. “I expect that’s all it is. Mistress Amanda wants to name your girl.”
“But Master Ben names the children,” Ella argued.
“You heard what the master said,” Sylvie fussed. “Things got to change. We all got to mind her wishes until she comes through this thing. No use fighting it.”
Silas’s tone was kinder. “Mistress has taken an interest in your child from the start,” he explained. “Her Becky passed the very hour your girl was born. I suppose their souls might have touched, one coming and the other leaving. No doubt that’s why the mistress thinks your child so special. Every time the mistress hears your baby cry, she asks after Yewande’s health.”
Ella pulled the child closer to her breast and set her mouth to protest.
“Ella, don’t make a fuss,” Sylvie said impatiently. “Just do what she says tonight. Anything in the world to calm her down. Nobody getting any rest until she do. Let her name your baby if she has a mind. She been taking so much medicine, she’ll forget her own name by morning.”
Ella saw the resoluteness in the faces of the couple. She finally gave a trembling nod.
As the three walked down the lane of cabins, they passed smoldering heaps of pine and cypress, attempts by the inhabitants to purify the air and keep the mosquitoes at bay. The acrid, suffocating smoke seemed to travel with the little group, enveloping them in a cloud that seared the lungs. Up in the distance, the lights in the great house came into view. No words were spoken as Sylvie, ever crisp and efficient, walked beside Ella while Silas lit the path.
It was Old Silas whom the master had first sent down to the quarters days ago with the news of Miss Becky’s death. Ella remembered how odd Silas’s little speech had been.
“Miss Becky has passed of a summer fever,” he said, “not the cholera, understand? If any of those who come to pay respects should ask you, that is what you are to say. It was a summer fever that took Miss Becky. Don’t say a word more.”
Someone had asked Silas why they had to lie. It was known to everyone on the plantation that the girl had come down with the same sickness that had killed nearly two dozen of his field hands. Sylvie had already let it be known that she had watched Miss Becky suffering in her four-poster bed, halfway to heaven on her feather mattress. Sylvie had witnessed the sudden nausea and the involuntary discharges that didn’t let up through the entire night. She had seen the girl’s eyes, once the color of new violets, go dim and sink deep into their sockets, her face looking more like that of an ancient woman exhausted by life than a twelve-year-old girl. From what Sylvie had said, Miss Becky’s dying had been no different than their own children’s.
Before answering the question, Silas jawed the chaw of tobacco to his other cheek. “He’s doing it to protect Miss Becky’s good name. Master says the cholera is not a quality disease. The highborn don’t come down with such. Especially no innocent twelve-year-old white girl.” Silas put two fingers up to his mouth and let go a stream of brown juice.
A dark laughter rippled through the survivors who stood there, all of whom had lost family or friends. What Silas wouldn’t say, Sylvie made sure the others knew. She said the master was so afraid of what his neighbors thought he had refused to send to Delphi for the doctor lest the news get out that Miss Becky had caught a sickness so foul that it was reserved for Negroes and the Irish. He had stood there and watched while the girl’s breathing became so faint it didn’t even disturb the fine linen sheet that covered her. He ranted about how Rubina, Becky’s constant companion and the daughter of a house slave, was healthy as a colt. “There is no way,” he swore, “the cholera would pass over a slave and strike down a white girl!”
Sylvie remembered the mistress’s face when her husband has said that. The cook had never seen that much agony in a white person’s eyes.
When all hope was lost, the master finally turned his back on his wife and daughter and home, leaving Becky to lie motionless, shrouded by the embroidered canopy of pink-and-white roses; Mistress Amanda to witness alone the inevitable end; and little Rubina to sob outside her dying playmate’s room. He rounded up a work gang and several bottles of whiskey, saddled his horse, and hightailed it out to the swamps to burn more Delta acreage.
“I guess that’s the white man’s way,” Sylvie had told them all, disgusted. “Lose a child, sire more land.”
That’s when the mistress’s mind finally broke. At first she wanted to have little Rubina whipped and her wounds salted, sure the girl had given her daughter the disease. But soon enough she relented. It was clear that she couldn’t hurt Becky’s friend. Mistress Amanda’s crazed search for blame finally settled on her husband. She cursed him night and day and threw china dishes against the wall. When Master Ben sent for some medicine to calm her, she swallowed all she could get her hands on. Anyway, that’s what those who worked in the house said.
Sylvie reached her arm around the young mother’s shoulder. Ella felt sure it was as much to keep her from bolting as it was to comfort her. Not that Ella hadn’t thought about running off with her baby into the darkness and hiding in the swamps, waiting out the mistress’s memory. But nobody had ever survived for more than two days out in the swamps.
Even if she did make it past two days, it was no guarantee the mistress would come to her senses. Since the day of the funeral, the mistress’s silhouette could be seen through her bedroom window at all times of night, her arms animated, her fists shaking accusingly at nobody.
Ella didn’t know what happened first, Sylvie’s grip tightening to a bruising clench or the gunshot that seemed to crack right over her head. The small procession halted and they all gazed up at the house.
“Lord, what she done now?” Sylvie said.
While they watched, Master Ben came storming down the back steps from the upstairs gallery in his nightshirt and bare feet, dragging his bed linen behind him.
“It’s about time y’all got here. She’s about to hunt you down and she’s got her daddy’s derringer.”
The group stepped aside to let him pass. “My advice,” he grumbled without looking back, “is to hurry up before she reloads.”
“God be great,” Sylvie said under her breath. “I wish she would go ahead and shoot the man so we could all get some peace.”
What People are Saying About This
A finalist for the Minnesota Book Award!
"A remarkable rite-of-passage novel with an unforgettable character ... The Healing transcends any clichés of the genre with its captivating, at times almost lyrical, prose; its firm grasp of history; vivid scenes; and vital, fully realized people, particularly the slaves with their many shades of color and modes of survival."
—The Associated Press
“A storytelling tour de force.”
"Compelling, tragic, comic, tender and mystical ... This is a beautiful book, well crafted and textured. It combines the historical significance of Kathryn Stockett's The Help with the wisdom of Toni Morrison's Beloved."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Odell has written one of those beautiful Southern tales with unforgettable characters. Required reading."
—New York Post
"A gripping, beautiful, and moving tale ... Add it to your summer reading list — you'll be glad that you did."
"A real page turner."
"Engrossing ... Bound to be compared to Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling The Help, this historical novel probes complex issues of freedom and slavery."
—Library Journal, starred review
"A terrific novel that will take its place in the distinguished pantheon of Southern fiction. Like The Help, that showstopping work by Kathryn Stockett, The Healing is another Mississippi-born work of art and Odell's Polly Shine is a character for the ages."
—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad
"Jonathan Odell won me over with his fresh take on an 1860's Mississippi plantation, and the connective power of story to heal body, mind and community. Long after closing the novel's final pages, I'm still marveling about Polly Shine, an inventively subversive slave healer, and a character I won't soon forget."
—Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River, an Oprah's Book Club selection, and Red River
"When the young slave Granada Satterfield reluctantly undertakes a quest to recover her own identity, she finds that she must begin by seeking the answers to two questions: Who are my people and what are their stories? Jonathan Odell's compelling new novel The Healing is a lyrical parable, rich with historical detail and unflinching in the face of disturbing facts."
—Valerie Martin, author of the Orange Prize winning novel Property
"Jonathan Odell gives voice to strong women at a time in history when their strength might have been their undoing. When Polly Shine's fierce knowledge comes up against Granada's stubborn resistance, the reader is held captive as the two attempt to resolve their conflict and Granada is made to face her destiny. This moving story is a must-read for fans of historical fiction."
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"The Healing is a moving cri de coeur for all those who yearn to be free, and for the wise women among us who understand that to subjugate one person is to subjugate all of humanity."
—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name if Mary Sutter
"Odell stirs lyricism and sentiment into a well-researched epic of slavery and emancipation that will endear itself to the spirituality inclined."
"Bringing exciting verisimilitude to an overworked genre, this Southern saga from Odell is rich in character and incident."
"The pre-Civil War South is beautifully rendered in Jonathan Odell's The Healing, its sure sense of time and place enhanced by believably drawn characters and their stories. . . . Jonathan Odell finds the right words, using the language of the day, its idiom and its music to great advantage in a compelling work that can stand up to The Help in the pantheon of Southern literature."
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Healing, the inspirational, unforgettable, and suspenseful novel by Jonathan Odell.
1. How does Polly Shine’s approach to medical treatment differ from that of the white doctors who previously treated the Satterfield slaves? What does she mean when she says, “The magic weren’t in the food. It was in the seeing”? Does the way a doctor sees his or her patients determine the prescribed treatment? In your experience, how important is the personal connection between doctor and patient?
2. Many popular works that address interracial relationships rely on a formula of a benevolent white savior empowering downtrodden blacks. Can you think of any books or films that employ this trope? What would Polly Shine say about this? How would she react to history books that claim that African Americans were “given” their freedom, or “given” the right to vote?
3. The “magic negro,” who, by use of special insight or powers helps the white protagonist, is a supporting archetype in fiction. Can you think of any examples of this stock character in other works? Does Polly Shine perpetuate the stereotype of the magic negro, or dispel it?
4. Of what significance are role models in The Healing? How important is it for children to see a reflection of themselves in the powerful and successful people around them?
5. In his research for The Healing, Jonathan Odell consulted an oral history project conducted by the WPA in the 1930s in which thousands of surviving former slaves were interviewed. There were some who said that given the poverty, discrimination, and random brutality they had experienced in the twentieth century, they wished they were still slaves under their old masters. Indeed, Master Satterfield in The Healing is not stereotypically cruel. Are there any instances when he seems sympathetic to his slaves? Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?
6. Gran Gran tells Violet, “After Freedom, everybody all of a sudden had to decide where he or she belonged. Nobody to tell them no more. Wasn’t easy for some of us. . . . Some of us picked wrong, I reckon.” What does she mean? How do the other Satterfield slaves satisfy their need for belonging after freedom? What choice does Silas make? Sylvie? Chester?
7. When Rubina turns to Polly for an abortion, the question arises of who has authority over Rubina’s body—the slave master, God, the people, or Rubina herself. Do you think Polly makes the right decision? After 150 years, how does this issue still surface in American life?
8. In the 1950s the medical establishment began a coordinated campaign to discredit midwives, who were still the major health-care providers to rural black women in the South. Yet years after the medical establishment won the battle, statistics showed that in many instances the live birth rate was higher among the black midwives than under the white, professionally trained doctors who replaced them. Why do you think this was so?
9. Polly talks about a “two-headed snake of Freedom” that will bite not only the Master, but the slave as well. What does she mean? And do the events of the novel play out this way?
10. Why doesn’t Polly take Granada with her? Do you agree with her decision?
11. What role does storytelling play in The Healing? How does it influence individuals, communities, and nations? How does the concept of “story” apply to contemporary methods of healing?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enough is told above about the plot of The Healing. This is easily one of the best books I've read. Period. Odell's Polly Shine is one of the most original and compelling characters every created. This book is so rich in its sense of time and place that you can virtually feel the southern heat and humidity come up off the pages. And the story is so moving, so thought-provoking, so redemptive. This is a must-read!
As an African American I found The Healing redemptive! I usually steer clear of books set in this time period. I'm usually either left depressed or angry. After reading The Healing, I was lifted and felt healed - personally and for my ancestors! The characters are well developed and vividly authentic. After reading the last page, I began hoping Jon O'dell would immediately begin the sequel
American history to learn from... The Healing takes us into a world we wouldn't be able to see first hand. There is much wisdom in this book, set just before the Civil War, Polly is brought to the huge cotton plantation to save the master's slaves from an epidemic of 'black tongue'. A wicked white plantation owner and his wife lose their 12 year-old daughter to the “black tongue” disease. The fragile wife loses it. The wife then steals the newborn of a too young slave and names the child after a city she likes. Granada grows up motherless, and confused about where she belongs until Polly Shine comes along. Polly teaches her to explore herself inside to get herself back and find her true self. She takes Granada on as her apprentice and teaches the young girl the ancient ways of earth healing that goes beyond just making the body well. Polly teaches Granada to open herself up to something that is more grand than herself that was instilled in her by living half in the privileged world of the whites, and looking down on the blacks who are her own blood. This book could give the same effect as THE HELP, which I’m sure the author had in mind. A very enlightening read.
I loved The Healing. The characters are richly drawn, unique, yet recognizable, almost familiar human beings. The setting, itself a character in the unfolding drama, is so vivid that I could feel, hear, and smell the Delta. But it was the language that really drew me in. Jon Odell has a great gift for language. The word choice and rhythm of the spoken language is so apt that it seemed that I was actually listening to a conversation. His imagery creates rich pictures of people and place with such grace that I found myself re-reading frequently, just to savor his words. This story of strength of character and redemption profoundly moved me. I know that some reviewers compare The Healing and The Help. To me, that's a superficial comparison, based on them both being "southern novels." I don't think they are comparable; The Healing has much more soul.
This was an excellent book with a new look at the old south. I would love to see it made into a movie. The characters were very human. I felt like I was right there with them. I didn't want to put the book down.
Odell has crafted his second superbly written novel. Not only are the characters beautifully developed, but this story, carefully researched, is a sensitive rendition of time and place. The tragedy of slavery is brought to life with heart and appreciation for the African American contribution to our culture. Why didn't this make your list of best books I just received, Barnes and Noble?
This is one of the best books I have read in 6months,definitely the best book this year. It is hard to believe that it was written by a man (and then a white man) WOW. I will never forget this book. I hate to give the story away as so many do but I will just say this....If you liked The Help...you will LOVE The Healing. I thought about PolIy Shine and Grenada all day, I truly hated to end the story but you cant help yourself. I have already ordered Mr Odell's previous book and will definitely look for him in the future. GREAT JOB.
FABULOUS BOOK! I can't recommend it enough. Jon O'Dell writes with such insight that I fully believe Polly Shine is merely telling her story through him. A book for women, for healing, for humankind...
Strong short read. Woven beautifully is the story of a healer , Polly Shine who refuses to cow tow to slave status. She chooses one of the house slaves to tutor under her. It is earthy, showing the dynamics involved in what I see as survival. At what cost do you betray those around you to get a warm biscuit. And yet, the character and strength in Polly Shine did not waver. Loved her courage and determination. I'm not great with reviews but trust me, this novel a has raw brutal beautiful story to weave into your heart.
Good story and good characters.
A great read about a black women struggling to find herself in a horrible time in our nation's history
A wonderful page turner. I wanted the story to go on and on
I'm an impatient reader; most novels I start, I don't finish. But "The Healing" is a spell-binder story from the slave point of view just before the civil war. The black woman doctor (who can spit tobacco juice better than any Atlanta Brave ball player) works her magic while insisting there's no magic involved and while training a youngster who is mired in a slave mentality. The slaves are victims to be sure, but in this story, they are much more than that: they are real people. You will love this book. -- Jo Wharton Heath
Excellent. I loved how the author goes back and forth in time to tell the unbelievable story of Granada/Gran Gran. Page turner from beginning to end.
THE HEALING has a plot that pulls the reader further and further into the book, while at the same time Odell does a wonderful job of teaching about slave life and empowerment. I would have loved to teach this book during my 34-year career in the classroom.
Once i started it, I didn't want to put it down- and i really didn't want it to end! A must read
I enjoyed every moment of this book.
Wow. This was a story. From the time I opened the book and began reading, I felt as if I was at the feet of a storyteller that I could not take my eyes off of nor tear my ears away from. Odell weaved this story like a master craftsman.This story opens in 1933, during a night of bad weather, a child in a blood stained dress, and the child's dead mother all left in the kitchen of an old woman who happens to be a former slave. The old lady, Granada affectionately known as "Gran Gran", begins to tell Violet (the motherless child left with her) her story to try and comfort her. Gran Gran went back to where it all began in 1847, on the Satterfield plantation in the Mississippi Delta.Mistress Amanda Satterfield lost her daughter, Miss Becky, to cholera and summoned the cook Aunt Slyvie and her husband Old Silas to go and get a newborn baby from one of the field slaves. That baby happened to be Granada who was raised in the Master's home and occasionally dressed in Miss Becky's clothes. As Granada grew so did her fierce loyalty to the Mistress. When a new slave arrives at the plantation, things changed forever. Polly Shine was a "healer" but she was called everything from a conjure woman to a witch. When she chose Granada to be her apprentice because she saw that Granada had the "gift" when she first laid eyes on her. This apprenticeship moved Granada out of the big house from her beloved Mistress and Little Lord, her playmate and the Master's son. Granada fought Polly tooth and nail but Polly never ceased to plant seeds of wisdom in Granada hoping they would take root. Granada's fierce loyalty to the Mistress always seemed to come back and choke out these seeds before they could take root.As Gran Gran tells Violet her story to soothe and calm her, Violet begins to relax and shocks Gran Gran with how she fits into Gran Gran's story. The aging Gran Gran felt out of touch with her "gift" until Violet came along under the most devastating and tragic of circumstances. Polly Shine who always had a way of being in the "weave" of things helped to heal Granada and Violet long after she was gone.It was so hard to write a review for this book without totally spoiling it. I merely scratched the surface with this review. These were some of the most vivid characters I have ever read. They jumped off the page into your life. They wrapped their arms around you and followed you throughout your day. I found myself "laughing out" so many times. There were many times that my heart ached because Odell did not try to sugar coat life on the plantation. After reading this book, one will never look at "freedom" the same way again.
I really wanted to love this book but it was slow moving in the beginning and didn't reel me in. I enjoy a leisurely paced, character driven novel as much as a suspensful thriller, but the writing has to be exceptional and flow smoothly to keep me involved. This just wasn't the case with "The Healing". That being said, I know several people who would enjoy this novel and I will recommend it to them, though it wasn't the book for me.
There are numerous books about slaves and the Deep South but few leave an indelible impression on this reader. The Healing by Jonathan Odell is one such book. Granada is born into slavery but has spent most of her young life at the side of the plantation mistress, much like a pet. Unfortunately Granada views her life through rose-tinted glasses and presumes that she is much better than other slaves simply because of her so-called status with the mistress. When Master Satterfield faces a plague that is devastating his slave population he brings in an older woman that has a well-known reputation as a healer, Polly Shine.In many aspects, Polly has the same amount of leeway to practice her healing arts and live her life as Granada had during her younger years. Polly's request that Granada join her in practicing healing is met with plenty of discomfort and tension, especially on the part of Granada. Although a slave, Polly has many ideas on what slavery and freedom entail and these ideas cause a split amongst many of the slaves into those that accept and understand her feelings and those that feel she is a troublemaker. Ultimately Polly ends up teaching Granada much of the healing arts, as well as providing hope to some of the slaves on the Satterfield plantation. Fast forward seventy-five years and Granada still lives on the plantation where she was born. The area has devolved into housing for many of the blacks descended from the slaves. Granada still practices the healing arts but there aren't many who approach her for assistance, until a young girl, Violet, is left in her care. Violet is dealing with abandonment issues relating to her mother's death and being left in Gran-Gran's custody. As she slowly heals, Violet discovers the history of the plantation and gorges herself on the Gran-Gran's memories of the people and events from the past. The Healing is just as much a story of the healing practices of Granada and Polly Shine as it is about the healing that Violet brings to Gran-Gran years after slavery has ended.
In my opinion, a book has to be well above very good to rate five stars.Life changing maybe or heart healing, something that strikes a chord mightrate five stars.The story told in this book has found a place in my heart and it will stay firmlyplanted there. Polly Shine is one of the most remarkable characters I have met inany book, by any writer, in my over fifty years of reading.To be very honest, I picked this book up and read a few pages and then set it aside.It wasn't calling out to me the way I expected it to when I read the blurbs. I wasfrustrated, because I had expected more. Well, shame on me for being impatient. If Ihad read beyond the first fifteen or so pages, I would have found my way into thiswonderful story much sooner.We hear the story of Polly Shines arrival on the plantation though stories told tothe girl Violet by Gran Gran. Granada was a child when Polly arrived and was chosen by herbecause Polly saw the glimmer of something special in the small girl. Granada, who grew tobe called Gran Gran wanted no parts of the woman Polly at first, and in fact disliked her.She blamed Polly for having lost her comfortable place as the favored "pet" of the mistress.Children can be so foolish! As time passed, Granada learned to see, she learned to listen andshe grew into wisdom of her own.I don't want to tell any more, I just want to entice you and let you find the gems that are scatteredthroughout this story on your own. Once you fall into the story, you will want to stay, as I did.
What an amazing and magical read. I absolutely loved it and so did not want it to end. It is the eve of the Civil War, on a large plantation in Mississippi and the master pays a unprecedented sum of money for a woman slave said to be a healer. Things are not going well on the plantation, slaves are dying and the mistress is going insane after the death of her daughter. Enters Polly Shine, a character I will never forget. I read an interview by this author and he includes much in his afterword, on how he felt after being raised in white man's Mississippi he felt he was missing a great part of his history, he actually talked to former midwives and other blacks raised in that era for the information in his novel. Comparing it to The Help is doing this book a disservice, because though I did like that book, this book immerses the reader in the plantation system, it is told from the viewpoint of Polly Shine and Granada, a young house raised slave that she takes to train, because Polly Shine feels that she has the same gift as herself. He explains exactly what freedom meant to the slaves and how some were not able to move on. It is a fascinating, historical read and I highly recommend it. ARC provided by Net Galley.
I picked this book up with much anticipation and was somewhat disappointed that the first third of it seemed to drag a bit. I was pleased to find that the early part of the book was a slow build to a mind-blowingly terrific novel. I'd encourage anyone struggling with the first part to stick with it. It's the story of Granada, born to a slave and taken as an infant to be raised by Mistress Amanda Satterfield, the plantation owner's wife, who is barely hanging on to reality since the death of her own child. Odell creates a marvelous sense of place with his descriptions of the plantation and the slave quarters. He astutely captures the inner workings of Granada as she struggles to understand her surroundings. He explores the chasm between races, as well as the question of identity and what it means to be "owned" by another human being. Granada never questions her existence, or slavery, until Polly Shine, a healer, and also a slave, is brought to the plantation. Polly takes an unwilling Granada as her apprentice, and challenges her to develop her own identity, to question slavery, and to appreciate the beauty and history of her people. The novel deftly explores the psychological impact of slavery. It's difficult to say that this is a novel about (insert theme here). It's about so much-- identity, freedom, the power of story, grief, betrayal, redemption. The character of Polly Shine is incredibly well-developed and the growing relationship between her and Granada is sensitively and beautifully portrayed. The story had the power to move me to tears more than once. An additional treat at the end of the novel itself is an afterward by the author, who enlightens the reader as to his own personal reasons for writing this story. A compelling story whose engaging characters will not soon be forgotten.