Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

Just finished this one and had to write about it.  A lot of places compare it to The Help, but really it is pretty darn far from that.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell is a richly written novel about Granada, also known as Gran Gran, who is the narrator of this tale of growing up as a slave on a plantation in Mississippi before the Civil War.  Granada's tale is told from an old woman who's lived a very long time in one place.  Gran Gran starts her story in the 1930's, as an old woman living in what used to be the kitchen to the plantation, but is now her home.  The plantation is in ruins, and old slave cabins are now a small town  populated by the people who work for the rich white folks in town, and Gran Gran has lost her vision into the "weave" of people who surround her.  

Gran Gran's story is mesmerizing. A young girl, Violet, and her dying mother are  delivered to her cabin late one night, and after the mother quickly dies from a botched abortion attempt, she's left to care for Violet, who is so grief stricken she can't speak and won't let Gran Gran touch her.  Gran Gran begins to tell Violet stories about the people she knew when she was a child, and most importantly, Polly Shine.  Benjamin Satterfield, the owner of the plantation, has purchased Polly for $5,000 in gold to heal his swamp slaves from a horrible disease that is killing them (and costing him a lot of money).  Granada has been living the life of a house slave, with the off-kilter Amanda Satterfield dressing Granada up in her dead daughter's dresses on special occasions in order to punish her husband for not sending for help while their daughter was dying of cholera.  Benjamin did not want his friends and associates to find out his daughter was dying of a "slave disease", and this cost him his daughter and the permanent hatred of his wife.  Granada is her way of embarrassing him in front of everyone, and a constant reminder that he failed to save his own daughter.

Granada soon catches the eye of Polly, who announces that Granada has the "healing", and must be her apprentice.  Granada is forced into working with Polly, who eventually becomes the most important person in Granada's life.  But not without a lot of belligerent attitude from Granada and actual foot stomping.  She's a young girl, after all, and does not understand her position on the plantation.  

There is so much to this tale, I can't possibly talk about every character and their impact on Granada's life.  I forgot a man wrote this novel, he did such a wonderful job of putting the reader on that plantation.  Life was unspeakably harsh for slaves; even they had a hierarchy on the plantation.  Polly was both feared and admired for her healing skills.  Some thought she was a "hoodoo" practitioner; others devoted themselves to her.  She's a powerful character that you will not forget--and neither will Granada.  She is the guiding force in Granada's life even when's she old and near the end of her life.

I loved this book.  Well written, powerful characters, excellent descriptions, and scenes that make your heart break.  When you read it, you will understand how the circle remains unbroken.  

Thanks to Net Galley for a preview ebook of this!  

Rating:  5/5:  Excellent all around; the women who populate this novel are unforgettable.

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