on December 22, 2011
I approached this novel warily because it had been compared to a wildly popular piece of Southern fiction of which I was not fond. I'm happy to report that I found the comparison entirely inapt. Odell's work offers greater subtlety of message and a richer, more authentic representation of people, period, and place.
The healing for which the book is named refers not only to healing of the body, but also to the power of connecting through stories to heal the parts of us that can't be touched in any other way. Granada shares her life story with silent little Violet, and the telling works its magic on the psyches of both speaker and listener. Eventually Violet must come out of her silence in her eagerness to tell the parts of the story unknown to Granada.
Granada's story centers on her relationship with Polly Shine, a black folk healer and midwife from whom Granada learned the healing and intuitive arts on a Mississippi plantation in the years just before the Civil War. Polly plucked Granada from her elevated position as a house slave, recognizing that Granada had healing gifts as yet undeveloped.
Polly Shine is the sparkle in this story. Spunky and outspoken, she embodies the hope of Freedom for her people, and sows that seed of possibility in their minds until it becomes a reality. Feared by some as a conjure woman, revered by others as a miracle worker, Polly lives by her own lights and mocks her white owners.
This is a story full of heart and a little humor, carefully researched by the author, himself a white child of the South. I would pick up the book thinking I was only going to read a chapter, and before I knew it I'd read 40 or 50 pages. It's a captivating picture of plantation life and healing lore as seen through the eyes of the slaves.
My only reason for not giving this lovely book five stars is that I felt abandoned near the close of the book. It jumps forward in time, which was disappointing after I'd developed a strong attachment to Polly Shine and Granada. It felt like a rush to the finish after a careful buildup. I do love the way it ends, though, with the message of passing forward to the young ones the responsibility for remembering and respecting what their forebears endured and accomplished.
It's been quite some time since I've read a book that I could honestly rate five stars--one that I thoroughly enjoyed; found the characters and plot engaging and the writing beautiful, inspiring and emotional and then could actually recommend to any of my friends.
The Healing by Jonathan Odell is that book.
Granada, a young slave girl and the pampered pet of the grieving mistress, has her eyes opened and her life changed when the master buys Polly Shine, a healer. Polly immediately recognizes that Granada has the gift and Polly sets out to train Granada to take her place on the plantation.
Odell is not simply a good writer, he is a gifted writer. He, like Polly and Granada, have a gift for seeing the human soul and expressing the desires, pains and struggles of each person. In his written note at the end of the book, Odell mentions how pleased he was that after the publishing of his first novel The View from Delphi, that a reviewer thought incorrectly that he was an African American. I chucked at the mistake because several times during the novel, I found myself looking at the cover to verify that the author wasn't actually a woman. This novel is an incredible and beautiful tribute to women and the sacred power of creating new life. Odell writes about these topics so tenderly and powerfully that it seems simply impossible to believe that he is a man.
I was disappointed at the end of the novel, simply because I had reached the end. I would have liked to read so much more about Polly Shine, Granada and the others who worked the Satterfield plantation. With careful attention to historical detail, The Healing is a compelling novel with strong and memorable characters that will not soon be forgotten.
Read this book.
With this being an Amazon Vine choice, I admittedly had very little background on this novel aside from a few snippets of praise from its publisher. It is seemingly marketed with references and comparisons to Katheryn Stockett's The Help which I find unfair and inaccurate. Aside from both authors being Mississippi-born, it is my opinion that The Healing excels and celebrates where The Help failed and insulted me. In short, while I realize I am in the minority by disliking The Help, I thoroughly enjoyed The Healing and will pick up Mr. Odell's other works (past and future).
The essence of memory serves as a balm in The Healing. The story opens with a black woman and her young daughter (Violet) being rushed by a white man to an old woman's (Granada) backwoods home in the middle of the night for medical attention. Having seen the adults weeks earlier for a "cure" for an unwanted "problem," the woman succumbs to her injuries leaving a traumatized Violet in the care of Granada (Gran Gran). As we soon learn, everything happens for a reason - Violet and Gran Gran have more in common than either could ever imagine. Gran Gran, who feels the "gift" of sight has abandoned her, slowly reclaims it and her strength as Violet's gentle probing and questions awaken a lifetime of suppressed memories. Granada recounts her life on the nearby Satterfield plantation in the Civil War era South and it is in this retelling the reader meets the eccentric laudanum-dazed mistress whose madness sets the course of Granada's life and introduces us to the unforgettable Polly Shine, the "gifted" daughter of weavers and a wise and formidable midwife/healer, who teaches Granada the invaluable lessons of a lifetime.
The storytelling and pacing is great - I was pulled into the story from the opening pages and stayed engaged until the end; I was vested to see how it was all going to play out and was not disappointed. The atmosphere/setting is vivid, the characters are rich and realistic in their actions and motivations -- simply put -- we have it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly; some are flawed, misguided, but all are wonderfully drawn. Polly Shine instantly became one of my favorite fictional characters -- I love her and wish I could have experienced more of her life's journey. Bottom line, this book pays homage to power of the story and memory and its ability to heal a people/community and individuals; it is in the remembering of the beloved ancestors that propel and empower the living. It is one of my favorites for the year.
Reviewed by Phyllis
APOOO Literary Bookclub
December 21, 2011
on February 24, 2013
I am in awe. What a rich, deep, and powerful tale of a people. I ached for Grenada, I ached for her to "get it", for her to remember. Polly Shine is still with me and will remain with me for days to come. Her wisdom was unparalleled. Reading this story, my heart was so full. Odell's writing was truly magnificent. I felt like I was there; in the kitchen, in the hospital, on the grounds. I felt the spririt of the people. A genuine and warm story that was a delight to read. The power of remembering is really potent. Please read this book. It will encourage you to honor who you are by never forgetting those who came before you.
on January 9, 2013
Jonathan Odell's novel, "The Healing," is a fascinating tale of the deep south, slavery, and the mind's of slaves. In this case the "hook" lies with a country healer, curandero, a tribal version of homeopathic medicine and mysticism for a plantation slave population. The protagonist healer is an attractive, wise, and cunning woman, not above trickery to save herself from master's lash, In that role she becomes a legend among other slaves and works with a trainee who is also thought to have the power of second sight.
Presented in epic fashion, the back and forth of two generations, the tale recounts the affairs of a hundred years among the same people on the plantation. The plot is a nail biter where the slaves are just a step ahead of the lash or sale to even worse masters in the swamps or down the river. The reader, of course, is on the side of the slaves against the uncaring master and an insane mistress, as well as some slaves who cling to their masters believing that better than finding their own core - that freedom can be more than just finding favor with the master or indeed being free of chains.
As engaging as the narrative is author Odell's incredible power over language and his lyrical prose. The dialogue is masterful with appropriate uses of "country" expressions that will delight your throughout these pages. In this, the prose is as close to narrative poetry as I've ever seen. Below is but one sample paragraph from hundreds in this lovely book.
"The chill night wind carried the sounds of her plea over the empty yard and across the quarter but no on lit their lanterns to see what ancient heart was breaking. Her ragged cry drifted over the graveyards that hugged tight their silent dead and fluttered through a primeval forest, taking the last leaves of the hardwoods and scattering them over the souls that once had been rooted there. It rippled the surface of the yellow-mud creek, below which lay drowned a secret name that had not been called in seventy years."
"The Healer"will transport you into the minds and hearts of a society that has only partially been lost, a place where the reader can feel both villain and victim traveling a path not yet well mapped in American history. Make this the next book on your list of those you must read.
on December 3, 2012
I initially did not want to read this book after finding it was being compared to "The Help." If you have been hindered about reading this book for that reason, wait no longer...READ "The Healing"! The misleading comparisons to "The Help" do this book no justice. The only similarities between the two books that I can find are they are both written by white authors and their stories show the different ways blacks have adjusted and dealt with being in positions of servitude. Jonathan Odell should be commended because this story is beautifully written and well-researched. I began reading the book but soon had to stop and find more information about the author because I was certain this book could not have been written by a Caucasian and definitely not by someone of the male persuasion. I appreciate O'dell's commitment to getting the facts straight with regards to culture, dialect and the subject of mid-wifery. The rich characters and story-line make you not want to the put the book down for a second. The imagery of the settings is so vivid that you feel that you are sitting in the kitchen with Aunt Sylvie or walking through the woods along with Polly Shine as she gathers herbs and holistic medicines. I'm fond of historical novels and stories about slavery, but they usually leave me feeling bitter, angry and disappointed. "The Healing" left you with a feeling of hope and appreciation for the contributions of slaves who lived and survived this era. The story also shows the importance of the African-American oral storytelling tradition that existed prior to slavery. I wish the author had given us more details about Granada's mother and the story behind Violet and her mother Lucy, and hopefully my questions will be addressed in a sequel to this wonderful novel!
I will remember the characters in this book for a long time to come. I've lived in the South and I know it can be mystical, strange and wonderful all at the same time and that is what The Healing is like. Jonathan Odell writes about women in a wonderful way and the women in this story come to life. I do a lot of reading at night, and while I was reading this book, I couldn't wait to catch up with Granada, Polly, Violet, Sylvie and the others each evening when I opened up The Healing to get lost inside the plantation back in the slave days.
This is a story that stays with you after you read it. It has to soak in a little bit so you can actually catch up with Polly Shine because even her character is smarter than average and in her time of slavery in the south, she was more intelligent than most people, black or white. I loved her. She is a wonderful, very memorable character. I find myself quoting her, "you can feed a person, but you can't make them swallow."
The South indeed has a strange history and it's filled with stories of misery, pain, heartbreak and evil atrocities but then, on the other hand there are also stories of love, forgiveness, strength and courage-and within the cover of this book is all of these things. This story takes you to a plantation run by the master and his mistress - who is fairly crazy because she lost a child. How their behavior effects the slaves is apparent in this book about a young girl named Grandada and how she becomes a healer. It's a story about slavery and freedom and freedom of choice and it's a story about the past and the future. I read The Help and enjoyed it very much, this is a different type of story which portrays a different period in history. The prose melts like butter and it's a very engaging, comfortable read.
If you enjoy Southern lit, you should give this book a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed at all.
on June 5, 2012
Although I read a lot of books, once I finish a story I seldom remember much more than whether I liked it or didn't. Not so with THE HEALING. In the weeks since I finished this moving tale not a day has passed when I haven't thought about the people and places that I encountered between these pages.
While I'm not a historian, I found myself wondering, "How could I not have known what it was like to live through this time?" Thanks to this illuminating story, I have a clearer perspective.
Odell's attention to detail is astonishing, but his greatest gift to the reader is a profound insight into the human spirit. Quite simply, THE HEALING is an unforgettable story about rising above abominable circumstances and a reminder of the power of love.
This is the book I'm recommending to my all of my story loving friends.
on December 4, 2012
This is not only an important historical novel about plantation slavery; it is about the power of individual people to make a tremendous difference, to stand up for what is true and right, and to keep the memory of their roots alive. It is about the power of women; birthing, creating, learning, sharing, remembering, growing, giving, healing. It is about the power of respecting your own creation, and those ancestors who were created before you, the ones who made YOU possible. It is about the power of listening, learning, and remembering from the heart. It is about courage. And real magic. I'm just astounded it was written by a white male! Jonathan, if you read these reviews, know that you are blessed.
This brand new novel starts off in Mississippi in the early 1930s and is told through the eyes of an aged black woman who was once a slave. Her mistress, whose daughter had died, dressed the young slave girl in fine clothes and gave her special privileges. But at the age of ten, everything changed and she was sent to live with a newly-bought slave woman who was thought to be a healer. At first the young girl was angry and sad about this but eventually she learned much and through the tales she tells about her life to a grieving young girl she meets when she is elderly, the story bursts forth with the reality of a life of slavery on a plantation.
The book is 338 pages long and a fast and pleasant read. The characters sprang to life and they all seemed real to me. I shuddered at the horror of slavery and was fascinated by the details of the story which went right into the hearts and minds of the young girl and her healing mentor. When I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking about it and couldn't wait to get back to it.
In spite of the fact that I discovered a tiny factual error, I still give it a high recommendation. I've been reading a lot about the Civil War lately and there is a part of the story when the slave owners talk about Mr. Lincoln's wanting to free the slaves. Actually, I know as a fact that when the Civil War started, this was not a policy of the president until well into the war. However, this is a novel and so I am overlooking this detail and understand why the author included it.
I really enjoyed this book. It moved swiftly with never a dull moment. I identified with the lead character and liked the way the author brought it right up to the 1930's with a parallel story that worked.