The Healing
By Jonathan Odel
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Set in the darkest heart of plantation-era slavery, “The Healing” is a remarkable rite-of-passage novel with an unforgettable character, a forceful medicine woman named Polly Shine.

She arrives in the life of Granada, a black slave girl who was robbed of her mother as a baby and is struggling to find her racial place and identity on a sprawling Mississippi Delta plantation in the decade leading up to the Civil War. Her personal journey takes fearsome turns in the hands of Polly Shine.

With this backdrop, the book might run the risk of being stereotypical Southern slave epoch fiction. Set mostly in 1860, it includes an arrogant white plantation owner, Master Ben, and his mad, grief-stricken wife, Mistress Amanda, who live in a mansion with their young son, Little Lord, and a trained monkey named Daniel Webster.

But it transcends any cliches 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 — none more so than Polly Shine and Granada.

This is Southern fictional turf tilled by many others, and it is fair to ask why the novel’s author, Jonathan Odell, chose to bring it dramatically to life once again.

“If you want to destroy a people, destroy their story,” he says in the note. “If you want to empower a people, give them a narrative to share.”

“The Healing” is just such a narrative.

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