- CRITTER TALK
Our guide on this magnificent voyage through history is Gran Gran. When we first encounter her, she is still living on the plantation where she was born, old now, bent over with the burden of time and memories weighing down her body. A young black child, Violet, is left on her doorstep, and we learn that Gran Gran may have been responsible for the death of Violet’s mother, Lucy. Lucy came to Gran Gran to unfix an early pregnancy, but didn’t share the whole truth. And now Lucy’s child, Violet, stands in Gran Gran’s kitchen, shivering, feverish, almost catatonic.
Violet shakes and moans, muttering in her sleep, and the only thing that seems to calm her is Gran Gran’s voice. Violet will not allow Gran Gran to touch her, but there is a kind of touch that reaches deeper than skin when Gran Gran speaks to Violet, telling her stories of the past. She begins to remember her own tapestry of memories with the words “They tell me my momma’s name was Ella.”
Don’t let go, now, keep hold of my hand. We’re going back, back to pre Civil War Mississippi, when Gran Gran’s name was Yewande and her mother was barely fourteen years old. The plantation where Gran Gran still lives was drowning in grief and madness and sickness, and Ella is awakened in the dead of night by Sylvie and Old Silas, two slaves. The mistress of the plantation, Mistress Amanda, has sent them out under the stars to bring Ella and her baby, Yewande, to the main house. Fear grips Ella’s heart and she resists to no avail. She and her baby are escorted to Mistress Amanda.
Mistress Amanda lost her own daughter to cholera and her husband’s pride. Master Ben could not bring himself to believe the same disease that was cutting a wide path through his slaves could possibly be the cause of his own daughter’s illness. And with that death, something in Mistress Amanda broke. Ella faces Mistress Amanda and, as Yewande is ripped from her arms, she struggles against the hands that hold her. The mistress renames Yewande Granada and Ella never sees her child again. Mistress Amanda keeps Granada, like a pet, to remind her of her dead daughter and to humiliate her husband.
Granada grows up in the main house, still a slave, but allowed to wear Mistress Amanda’s dead daughter, Becky’s clothes on special occasions, and stand next to Mistress Amanda as a black child in the main house. Granada has no memory of her real mother, and believes the main house is where she belongs, forgetting her blood, forgetting her skin color, forgetting everything except the feel of those silk frocks. Then, one day, Master Ben brings home a slave for which he paid five thousand dollars. He brings home Polly Shine.
Polly Shine is a healer, a midwife and a mystic of sorts. She sees the gift for healing in Granada, and demands that Master Ben give Granada to her. He agrees, despite his wife’s anger and Granada’s tears. Granada watches as Polly Shine orders the master around, forces him to let the slaves cultivate gardens and build porches and cures them with roots and teas and whispers. Granada calls it “hoo doo,” this magic that Polly Shine weaves. Polly Shine tells Granada that she herself has the healing power in her, and must listen to the wind and study the stars and remember who she is.
“The Healing” tells a story of power and love and freedom. Polly Shine barters for her freedom, and Granada’s freedom with the life Master Ben’s son, Little Lord and wins. Granada stays, and begins to make her own name as a healer. With this book, Jonathan Odell brings to life two of the most powerful female literary characters in decades. He writes with passion and understanding and creates a tapestry filled with color and texture and star dust and song.
I will read “The Healing” again and again. Magic like this does not come around very often, and I plan to dip into it as often as I possibly can.
“Some see the tangle and others see the weave. The ones that can’t take their eyes off the tangle, they never rise above it.” Polly Shine.Click here for reuse options!