I’ve just finished a fantastic novel, The Healing by Jonathan Odell. This story of slavery in Mississippi is so vivid and told with such depth of feeling that I couldn’t put the book down.
Granada is born a slave in 1847 to Ella, her 14-year-old mother, and Thomas. The master and mistress of the plantation, Ben and Amanda Satterfield have just lost their 12-year-old daughter Becky to cholera. Mistress Amanda is beside herself with grief and heavily medicated with laudanum. In the middle of the night the mistress demands that Ella’s baby be brought to the main house for her to name. A practice that usually falls to the master of the house. Ella hands the baby to the mistress with great reluctance and it seems with good reason. After naming the baby Granada, Mistress Amanda dismisses Ella and ends up keeping Granada for her own. Granada becomes a house slave, and the mistresses pet, never seeing her mother again.
Granada, later known as Gran Gran, narrates the story during two different parts of her life. First as a child, and a slave, in the mid 1800’s and then in 1937, when she is 90 and still living on the plantation property. The heart of the story centers around Granada’s life in her early teens when her world is turned upside down by a new arrival to the plantation. Master Ben purchases a very expensive slave named Polly Shine. Polly is an older slave woman who Satterfield brings to the plantation to heal the sickness that is infecting his slaves out in the fields. Granada and the rest of the slaves are very curious about Polly because she is the first slave the master has ever purchased. The rest of the slave population have been bred and raised on the land, they are a family of a sorts and Polly is most definitely an outsider.
Polly picks Granada to be her apprentice and learn the magic of healing much to Granada’s chagrin as she would much rather stay in the house with the mistress. The story of Granada and Polly, both rebellious and stubborn in nature, is a beautifully told story that comes full circle when Gran Gran must use the powers of healing she learned from Polly on a young girl left in her care.
Jonathan Odell’s writing is a masterpiece. His ability to take the reader to the time and place of this tale was astounding and it seemed he must have done a great deal of research to paint such a clear picture. The Healing is a narrative that will stay with me for a while it was just that good.