The Healingby Jonathan Odell
The pre-Civil War South comes brilliantly to life in this masterfully written novel about a mysterious and charismatic healer readers won’t soon forget
Mississippi plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he considers to be a “slave disease.”/b>
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The pre-Civil War South comes brilliantly to life in this masterfully written novel about a mysterious and charismatic healer readers won’t soon forget
Mississippi plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he considers to be a “slave disease.” Insane with grief, Amanda takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada, much to the outrage of her husband and the amusement of their white neighbors. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave reputed to be a healer. But Polly’s sharp tongue and troubling predictions cause unrest across the plantation. Complicating matters further, Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada, the mistress’s pet, and a domestic battle of wills ensues.
Seventy-five years later, Granada, now known as Gran Gran, is still living on the plantation and must revive the buried memories of her past in order to heal a young girl abandoned to her care. Together they learn the power of story to heal the body, the spirit and the soul.
Rich in mood and atmosphere, The Healing is the kind of novel readers can’t put down—and can’t wait to recommend once they’ve finished.
“Compelling, tragic, comic, tender and mystical. . . . Combines the historical significance of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help with the wisdom of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A terrific novel that will take its place in the distinguished pantheon of Southern fiction…. Polly Shine is a character for the ages.” —Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides
“A storytelling tour de force.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Jonathan Odell won me over with his fresh take on an 1860's Mississippi plantation, and the connective power of story to heal body, mind and community.” —Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River
“A remarkable rite-of-passage novel with an unforgettable character. . . . The Healing transcends any clichés of the genre with its captivating, at times almost lyrical, prose; its firm grasp of history; vivid scenes; and vital, fully realized people, particularly the slaves with their many shades of color and modes of survival.” —Associated Press
“Odell gives voice to strong women at a time in history when their strength might have been their undoing. When Polly Shine's fierce knowledge comes up against Granada’s stubborn resistance, the reader is held captive as the two attempt to resolve their conflict and Granada is made to face her destiny. This moving story is a must-read for fans of historical fiction.” —Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
“A haunting tale of Southern fiction peopled with vivid and inspiring personalities. . . . Polly Shine is an unforgettable character who shows how the power and determination of one woman can inspire and transform the lives of those around her.” —Bookreporter
“Jonathan Odell finds the right words, using the language of the day, its idiom and its music to great advantage in a compelling work that can stand up to The Help in the pantheon of Southern literature.” —Shelf Awareness
“Odell has written one of those beautiful Southern tales with unforgettable characters. Required reading.” —New York Post
“Engrossing. . . . This historical novel probes complex issues of freedom and slavery.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“When the young slave Granada Satterfield reluctantly undertakes a quest to recover her own identity, she finds that she must begin by seeking the answers to two questions: Who are my people and what are their stories? Jonathan Odell's compelling new novel The Healing is a lyrical parable, rich with historical detail and unflinching in the face of disturbing facts.” —Valerie Martin, author of Property
“Rich in character and incident.” —Publishers Weekly
“The Healing is a moving cri de coeur for all those who yearn to be free, and for the wise women among us who understand that to subjugate one person is to subjugate all of humanity."
—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name if Mary Sutter
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Read an Excerpt
Ella was awake when she heard the first timid knock at the cabin door. Her husband, who lay beside her on the corn-shuck mattress, snored undisturbed. She kept still as well, not wanting to wake the newborn that slept in the crook of her arm. The baby had cried most of the night and had only just settled into a fitful sleep. Ella couldn’t blame the girl for being miserable. The room was intolerably hot.
Like everybody else in the quarter, Ella believed the cholera was carried by foul nocturnal vapors arising from the surrounding swamp, so she and Thomas kept their shutters and doors closed tight against the night air, doing their best to protect their daughter from the killing disease that had already taken so many.
The rapping on the door became more insistent. Ella pushed against Thomas with her foot. On the second shove he awoke with a snort.
“Thomas! See to the door,” she whispered, “and mind Yewande.”
Wearing only a pair of cotton trousers, Thomas eased himself from the bed and crossed the room. He lifted the bar and pulled open the door, but his broad muscled back blocked the visitors’ faces. From the flickering glare cast around her husband, Ella could tell one of the callers held a lantern.
“Thomas,” came the familiar voice, “get Ella up.”
Ella started at the words. It was Sylvie, the master’s cook. The woman lived all the way up at the mansion and would have no good reason to be out this time of night unless it was something bad.
“Now?” Thomas whispered. “She’s sleeping.”
“She needs to carry her baby up to the master’s house,” Sylvie said. “Ella got to make haste on it. Mistress Amanda is waiting on her.”
“What she wanting with my woman and child in the dead of night?” Ella heard the alarm rising in her husband’s voice.
“Thomas, you know it ain’t neither night nor day for Mistress Amanda. She ain’t slept a wink since the funeral. And she’s grieving particular bad tonight. Her medicine don’t calm her down no more. She ain’t in no mood to be trifled with.”
“Old Silas,” Thomas pled to another unseen caller, “you tell the mistress that Ella will come by tomorrow, early in the morning.” Then he dropped his voice to a hush. “You know the mistress ain’t right in her head.”
Old Silas had more pull than anybody with the master, but from the lack of response, Ella imagined Silas’s gray head, weathered skin stretched tight over his skull, shaking solemnly.
Thomas let go a deep breath and then turned back to his wife. Behind him, Ella could hear the talk as it continued between the couple outside.
“You know good and well she didn’t say to fetch Ella,” Old Silas whispered harshly to his wife. “Just the baby, she said. What’s in your head?”
“Shush!” Aunt Sylvie fussed. “You didn’t see what I seen. I know what I’m doing.”
Ella met them at the door holding the swaddled infant. Not yet fourteen, Ella wore a ripped cotton shift cut low for nursing, and even in the heat of the cabin, she trembled. The yellow light lit the faces of the cook and her husband.
“What she want with Yewande?” Ella whimpered. “What she going to do to my baby?”
“Ella, she ain’t going to hurt your baby,” Sylvie assured. “Mistress wouldn’t do that for the world.”
Old Silas reached out and laid a gentle hand on Ella’s shoulder. “I expect she wants to name your girl, is all.” His voice was firm but comforting. He spoke more like the master than any slave. “That right, Sylvie?”
“Of course!” Sylvie said, as if hearing the explanation for the first time. “I expect that’s all it is. Mistress Amanda wants to name your girl.”
“But Master Ben names the children,” Ella argued.
“You heard what the master said,” Sylvie fussed. “Things got to change. We all got to mind her wishes until she comes through this thing. No use fighting it.”
Silas’s tone was kinder. “Mistress has taken an interest in your child from the start,” he explained. “Her Becky passed the very hour your girl was born. I suppose their souls might have touched, one coming and the other leaving. No doubt that’s why the mistress thinks your child so special. Every time the mistress hears your baby cry, she asks after Yewande’s health.”
Ella pulled the child closer to her breast and set her mouth to protest.
“Ella, don’t make a fuss,” Sylvie said impatiently. “Just do what she says tonight. Anything in the world to calm her down. Nobody getting any rest until she do. Let her name your baby if she has a mind. She been taking so much medicine, she’ll forget her own name by morning.”
Ella saw the resoluteness in the faces of the couple. She finally gave a trembling nod.
As the three walked down the lane of cabins, they passed smoldering heaps of pine and cypress, attempts by the inhabitants to purify the air and keep the mosquitoes at bay. The acrid, suffocating smoke seemed to travel with the little group, enveloping them in a cloud that seared the lungs. Up in the distance, the lights in the great house came into view. No words were spoken as Sylvie, ever crisp and efficient, walked beside Ella while Silas lit the path.
It was Old Silas whom the master had first sent down to the quarters days ago with the news of Miss Becky’s death. Ella remembered how odd Silas’s little speech had been.
“Miss Becky has passed of a summer fever,” he said, “not the cholera, understand? If any of those who come to pay respects should ask you, that is what you are to say. It was a summer fever that took Miss Becky. Don’t say a word more.”
Someone had asked Silas why they had to lie. It was known to everyone on the plantation that the girl had come down with the same sickness that had killed nearly two dozen of his field hands. Sylvie had already let it be known that she had watched Miss Becky suffering in her four-poster bed, halfway to heaven on her feather mattress. Sylvie had witnessed the sudden nausea and the involuntary discharges that didn’t let up through the entire night. She had seen the girl’s eyes, once the color of new violets, go dim and sink deep into their sockets, her face looking more like that of an ancient woman exhausted by life than a twelve-year-old girl. From what Sylvie had said, Miss Becky’s dying had been no different than their own children’s.
Before answering the question, Silas jawed the chaw of tobacco to his other cheek. “He’s doing it to protect Miss Becky’s good name. Master says the cholera is not a quality disease. The highborn don’t come down with such. Especially no innocent twelve-year-old white girl.” Silas put two fingers up to his mouth and let go a stream of brown juice.
A dark laughter rippled through the survivors who stood there, all of whom had lost family or friends. What Silas wouldn’t say, Sylvie made sure the others knew. She said the master was so afraid of what his neighbors thought he had refused to send to Delphi for the doctor lest the news get out that Miss Becky had caught a sickness so foul that it was reserved for Negroes and the Irish. He had stood there and watched while the girl’s breathing became so faint it didn’t even disturb the fine linen sheet that covered her. He ranted about how Rubina, Becky’s constant companion and the daughter of a house slave, was healthy as a colt. “There is no way,” he swore, “the cholera would pass over a slave and strike down a white girl!”
Sylvie remembered the mistress’s face when her husband has said that. The cook had never seen that much agony in a white person’s eyes.
When all hope was lost, the master finally turned his back on his wife and daughter and home, leaving Becky to lie motionless, shrouded by the embroidered canopy of pink-and-white roses; Mistress Amanda to witness alone the inevitable end; and little Rubina to sob outside her dying playmate’s room. He rounded up a work gang and several bottles of whiskey, saddled his horse, and hightailed it out to the swamps to burn more Delta acreage.
“I guess that’s the white man’s way,” Sylvie had told them all, disgusted. “Lose a child, sire more land.”
That’s when the mistress’s mind finally broke. At first she wanted to have little Rubina whipped and her wounds salted, sure the girl had given her daughter the disease. But soon enough she relented. It was clear that she couldn’t hurt Becky’s friend. Mistress Amanda’s crazed search for blame finally settled on her husband. She cursed him night and day and threw china dishes against the wall. When Master Ben sent for some medicine to calm her, she swallowed all she could get her hands on. Anyway, that’s what those who worked in the house said.
Sylvie reached her arm around the young mother’s shoulder. Ella felt sure it was as much to keep her from bolting as it was to comfort her. Not that Ella hadn’t thought about running off with her baby into the darkness and hiding in the swamps, waiting out the mistress’s memory. But nobody had ever survived for more than two days out in the swamps.
Even if she did make it past two days, it was no guarantee the mistress would come to her senses. Since the day of the funeral, the mistress’s silhouette could be seen through her bedroom window at all times of night, her arms animated, her fists shaking accusingly at nobody.
Ella didn’t know what happened first, Sylvie’s grip tightening to a bruising clench or the gunshot that seemed to crack right over her head. The small procession halted and they all gazed up at the house.
“Lord, what she done now?” Sylvie said.
While they watched, Master Ben came storming down the back steps from the upstairs gallery in his nightshirt and bare feet, dragging his bed linen behind him.
“It’s about time y’all got here. She’s about to hunt you down and she’s got her daddy’s derringer.”
The group stepped aside to let him pass. “My advice,” he grumbled without looking back, “is to hurry up before she reloads.”
“God be great,” Sylvie said under her breath. “I wish she would go ahead and shoot the man so we could all get some peace.”
What People are Saying About This
"A remarkable rite-of-passage novel with an unforgettable character ... The Healing transcends any clichés of the genre with its captivating, at times almost lyrical, prose; its firm grasp of history; vivid scenes; and vital, fully realized people, particularly the slaves with their many shades of color and modes of survival."
—The Associated Press
“A storytelling tour de force.”
"Compelling, tragic, comic, tender and mystical ... This is a beautiful book, well crafted and textured. It combines the historical significance of Kathryn Stockett's The Help with the wisdom of Toni Morrison's Beloved."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Odell has written one of those beautiful Southern tales with unforgettable characters. Required reading."
—New York Post
"A gripping, beautiful, and moving tale ... Add it to your summer reading list — you'll be glad that you did."
"A real page turner."
"Engrossing ... Bound to be compared to Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling The Help, this historical novel probes complex issues of freedom and slavery."
—Library Journal, starred review
"A terrific novel that will take its place in the distinguished pantheon of Southern fiction. Like The Help, that showstopping work by Kathryn Stockett, The Healing is another Mississippi-born work of art and Odell's Polly Shine is a character for the ages."
—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad
"Jonathan Odell won me over with his fresh take on an 1860's Mississippi plantation, and the connective power of story to heal body, mind and community. Long after closing the novel's final pages, I'm still marveling about Polly Shine, an inventively subversive slave healer, and a character I won't soon forget."
—Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River, an Oprah's Book Club selection, and Red River
"When the young slave Granada Satterfield reluctantly undertakes a quest to recover her own identity, she finds that she must begin by seeking the answers to two questions: Who are my people and what are their stories? Jonathan Odell's compelling new novel The Healing is a lyrical parable, rich with historical detail and unflinching in the face of disturbing facts."
—Valerie Martin, author of the Orange Prize winning novel Property
"Jonathan Odell gives voice to strong women at a time in history when their strength might have been their undoing. When Polly Shine's fierce knowledge comes up against Granada's stubborn resistance, the reader is held captive as the two attempt to resolve their conflict and Granada is made to face her destiny. This moving story is a must-read for fans of historical fiction."
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"The Healing is a moving cri de coeur for all those who yearn to be free, and for the wise women among us who understand that to subjugate one person is to subjugate all of humanity."
—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name if Mary Sutter
"Odell stirs lyricism and sentiment into a well-researched epic of slavery and emancipation that will endear itself to the spirituality inclined."
"Bringing exciting verisimilitude to an overworked genre, this Southern saga from Odell is rich in character and incident."
"The pre-Civil War South is beautifully rendered in Jonathan Odell's The Healing, its sure sense of time and place enhanced by believably drawn characters and their stories. . . . Jonathan Odell finds the right words, using the language of the day, its idiom and its music to great advantage in a compelling work that can stand up to The Help in the pantheon of Southern literature."
Meet the Author
JONATHAN ODELL is the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, his home state. His short stories and essays have appeared in numerous collections. He spent his business career as a leadership coach to Fortune 500 companies and currently resides in Minnesota.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Enough is told above about the plot of The Healing. This is easily one of the best books I've read. Period. Odell's Polly Shine is one of the most original and compelling characters every created. This book is so rich in its sense of time and place that you can virtually feel the southern heat and humidity come up off the pages. And the story is so moving, so thought-provoking, so redemptive. This is a must-read!
As an African American I found The Healing redemptive! I usually steer clear of books set in this time period. I'm usually either left depressed or angry. After reading The Healing, I was lifted and felt healed - personally and for my ancestors! The characters are well developed and vividly authentic. After reading the last page, I began hoping Jon O'dell would immediately begin the sequel
American history to learn from... The Healing takes us into a world we wouldn't be able to see first hand. There is much wisdom in this book, set just before the Civil War, Polly is brought to the huge cotton plantation to save the master's slaves from an epidemic of 'black tongue'. A wicked white plantation owner and his wife lose their 12 year-old daughter to the “black tongue” disease. The fragile wife loses it. The wife then steals the newborn of a too young slave and names the child after a city she likes. Granada grows up motherless, and confused about where she belongs until Polly Shine comes along. Polly teaches her to explore herself inside to get herself back and find her true self. She takes Granada on as her apprentice and teaches the young girl the ancient ways of earth healing that goes beyond just making the body well. Polly teaches Granada to open herself up to something that is more grand than herself that was instilled in her by living half in the privileged world of the whites, and looking down on the blacks who are her own blood. This book could give the same effect as THE HELP, which I’m sure the author had in mind. A very enlightening read.
I loved The Healing. The characters are richly drawn, unique, yet recognizable, almost familiar human beings. The setting, itself a character in the unfolding drama, is so vivid that I could feel, hear, and smell the Delta. But it was the language that really drew me in. Jon Odell has a great gift for language. The word choice and rhythm of the spoken language is so apt that it seemed that I was actually listening to a conversation. His imagery creates rich pictures of people and place with such grace that I found myself re-reading frequently, just to savor his words. This story of strength of character and redemption profoundly moved me. I know that some reviewers compare The Healing and The Help. To me, that's a superficial comparison, based on them both being "southern novels." I don't think they are comparable; The Healing has much more soul.
This was an excellent book with a new look at the old south. I would love to see it made into a movie. The characters were very human. I felt like I was right there with them. I didn't want to put the book down.
Odell has crafted his second superbly written novel. Not only are the characters beautifully developed, but this story, carefully researched, is a sensitive rendition of time and place. The tragedy of slavery is brought to life with heart and appreciation for the African American contribution to our culture. Why didn't this make your list of best books I just received, Barnes and Noble?
This is one of the best books I have read in 6months,definitely the best book this year. It is hard to believe that it was written by a man (and then a white man) WOW. I will never forget this book. I hate to give the story away as so many do but I will just say this....If you liked The Help...you will LOVE The Healing. I thought about PolIy Shine and Grenada all day, I truly hated to end the story but you cant help yourself. I have already ordered Mr Odell's previous book and will definitely look for him in the future. GREAT JOB.
FABULOUS BOOK! I can't recommend it enough. Jon O'Dell writes with such insight that I fully believe Polly Shine is merely telling her story through him. A book for women, for healing, for humankind...
Strong short read. Woven beautifully is the story of a healer , Polly Shine who refuses to cow tow to slave status. She chooses one of the house slaves to tutor under her. It is earthy, showing the dynamics involved in what I see as survival. At what cost do you betray those around you to get a warm biscuit. And yet, the character and strength in Polly Shine did not waver. Loved her courage and determination. I'm not great with reviews but trust me, this novel a has raw brutal beautiful story to weave into your heart.
Good story and good characters.
A great read about a black women struggling to find herself in a horrible time in our nation's history
A wonderful page turner. I wanted the story to go on and on
I'm an impatient reader; most novels I start, I don't finish. But "The Healing" is a spell-binder story from the slave point of view just before the civil war. The black woman doctor (who can spit tobacco juice better than any Atlanta Brave ball player) works her magic while insisting there's no magic involved and while training a youngster who is mired in a slave mentality. The slaves are victims to be sure, but in this story, they are much more than that: they are real people. You will love this book. -- Jo Wharton Heath
Excellent. I loved how the author goes back and forth in time to tell the unbelievable story of Granada/Gran Gran. Page turner from beginning to end.
THE HEALING has a plot that pulls the reader further and further into the book, while at the same time Odell does a wonderful job of teaching about slave life and empowerment. I would have loved to teach this book during my 34-year career in the classroom.
Once i started it, I didn't want to put it down- and i really didn't want it to end! A must read
Read this book for my book club. I would recommend this book for book club discussions. Was a very well researched book and an enjoyable read.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this novel. I thought of healing mostly in the physical sense. This really is a haunting tale of people enslaved so long they no longer know where they come from or what their destiny might have been. In the face of terrible hardship they quietly resist to have their souls completely held captive. Odell tells their story as if he to has lived among them; felt their sorry and pain. The strong women he gives a voice to are characters that one would aspire to be. The tale is told in a poetic way and should hold it's place in Southern literature. A beautiful novel! Any reader who loves historical fiction will enjoy this book.
If you like 'The Kitchen House' you will enjoy this book. This book is often associated with 'The Help' I do not think that is a proper association. They are both great books, but different type of read.
She pulls her tail over the wounds makeing them heal."As Duskkit, noone adopted me. I trained as an apprentice with no mentor. I looked for a clan and put the medcat out. Then the clan replaced me. I am a loner now. I am visiting you thru a dream. When you awake you will be perfectly healed." She starts to fade. ((Meet me at 'dusk' 2))
Great story! Loved it from start to finish.