Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

On a Mississippi plantation in 1847 Amanda Satterfield, the lady of the house, is driven mad with grief when she loses her twelve-year-old daughter, Becky, to cholera. Her husband, Master Ben, considers cholera a “slave disease,” shameful affliction for whites, and refuses to summon the doctor. Her mind addled by grief, anger, and opium, Mistress Amanda decides to punish her husband by taking an infant slave girl as her own. She christens the girl Granada and as the years pass dresses her up in her dead daughter’s clothes and parades her before Southern high society to humiliate her husband.

At his wit’s end over his wife’s deteriorating mental health, knowing that he is a laughingstock in the eyes of their neighbors, and a mysterious plague that is sweepoing through his slave quarters, Master Ben buys Polly Shine, a slave woman reputed to have miraculous healing powers, learned from an Indian Medicine Man and an African midwife, for the astonishing sum of $5,000, more than he has ever paid for any slave, but he orders her to trains someone so in case anything happens to her he will be sure to get his money’s worth.

Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada and demands to have the mistress’s little pet as her assistant. And a battle of wills ensues as the spoiled twelve-year-old Granada rebels against having to leave the great house to live in the quarters with Polly and be like all the other slaves. But Polly’s sharp tongue and disturbing predictions only lead to more trouble and unrest.

The story is told in flashback in 1933 as ninety-year-old Granada, called “Gran Gran” a healer who has followed in the footsteps of her mentor Polly Shine, and is now accustomed to wearing shifts stitched out of flour sacks instead of fancy silk and lace frocks, looks back on her own life to try to help a little girl who has lost her mother to a botched abortion.

This was a very interesting novel, for anyone interested in life on Southern plantations and slave culture before the Civil War, herbal healing, midwifery, and the power of belief, this will most likely be a very worthwhile read.

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