Summary and book reviews of The Healing by Jonathan Odell

The Healing

A Novel

By Jonathan Odell

The Healing

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Book Summary

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.

1847

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does Polly Shine's approach to medical treatment differ from that of the white doctors who previously treated the Satterfield slaves? What does she mean when she says, "The magic weren't in the food. It was in the seeing"? Does the way a doctor sees his or her patients determine the prescribed treatment? In your experience, how important is the personal connection between doctor and patient?

  2. Many popular works that address interracial relationships rely on a formula of a benevolent white savior empowering downtrodden blacks. Can you think of any books or films that employ this trope? What would Polly Shine say about this? How would she react to history books that claim that African Americans were "given" their freedom, or "given" the...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Healing. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

A number of recent books explore injustices due to racial bias. Why do you think these stories are being written now?
Rebajane, what an insightful statement and one that I had not thought, as all the authors/books that I mentioned were indeed written by women. - debracoley

Do you think Granada ever becomes free? How do the other Satterfield slaves satisfy their need for belonging after freedom?
I don't think Granada ever really understood freedom until she is able to go back and recount her life with Violet. The pieces did not fit until she was able to look back and see it through the eyes of an old woman who life is coming to an end. - luisaao

Do you think Old Silas believes his cant about slavery and then changes his mind, or do you think it was an act?
I believe Old Silas was simply looking out for himself. Before Polly, it was to his advantage to say he believed slavery was an advantage. Polly allowed him to see advantages to escape ,therefore he changed his thoughts. - trezelineb

Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?
Slaves were property. Some slave owners might treat their working people better than others did, but the slaves were still in bondage. Nothing made it right. I don't know how they could deal with suddenly being free in a land that didn't value ... - jeann

Double Standards in Slavery....
I think it was a power play more than anything. The experts say that rape is more about power over another human being than about love or affection or even pleasure. So, I suspect that the white masters sleeping with their female slaves is just one... - gwendolyndawson

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Reviews

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Whether or not this is possible - if a group of people can heal, can reclaim identity when it has been brutally stripped from them and then cruelly withheld - is one of the central questions of the novel. In this way, The Healing becomes much more than a historical fiction novel set in the antebellum South. As it contemplates how people are repatriated into their dormant identities, the novel ruminates on the ways in which people define themselves and whether it is possible to heal the horrors of the past to embrace the opportunities of the future. The Healing is a tremendously powerful novel and one of the best I have read in quite some time. Jonathan Odell has created a masterpiece.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad
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.

Author Blurb Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River and Red River
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.

Author Blurb Valerie Martin, author of the Orange Prize winning novel Property
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.

Author Blurb Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"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.

Author Blurb Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter
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.

Kirkus Reviews

Odell (The View from Delphi, 2004) stirs lyricism and sentiment into a well-researched epic of slavery and emancipation that will endear itself to the spirituality inclined.

Publishers Weekly

Bringing exciting verisimilitude to an overworked genre, this Southern saga from Odell is rich in character and incident but suffers from an awkward generation-bridging flashback structure.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Engrossing... Bound to be compared to Kathryn Stockett's best-selling The Help, this historical novel... probes complex issues of freedom and slavery.

Shelf Awareness, Valerie Ryan

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.

Reader Reviews
mainlinebooker

Run to the store
If I could give this book a 6, that would be well earned. Quite simply,I adored this book which explored slavery and subjugation in a prose so lyrical and moving that I heard the characters lilt in every phrase I read. I was also so astonished at the...   Read More

Debra

The Healing
I really enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It was sweet, funny, and sad. You know a book is great when that happens. I loved the way the story unfolded, and thought the author did a good job of developing characters relevant to the time period...   Read More

Jeanette

The Healing
I read The Healing in two sittings it is a fascinating story of plantation life at the beginning of the Civil War. Granada, a slave newborn child whom the plantation mistress takes from the slave mother to fill-in her grief over the lost of her own ...   Read More

Grace

The Healing: A Novel
Rich in description, The Healing:A Novel is an engaging and poignant book, full of heart and wisdom. Jonathan Odell is an extraordinary storyteller, and this is a wonderful book.

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Slave Healers in the Antebellum South

Slave Healers in the Antebellum South

Polly Shine's arrival at the Satterfield's plantation is a remarkable sight to the slaves in Jonathan Odell's The Healing as she was a "bought" slave, not bred on the plantation, and she was a costly purchase. Their astonishment continues when, soon after her arrival, she starts to give orders regarding the slaves' health and the Master goes along with them. While slave healers were relatively common in the antebellum South, it was unusual for an owner to encourage one. According to Working Cures: Healing, Health and Power on Southern Slave Plantations (which Odell says he relied on heavily for his research) white doctors usually treated plantation slaves. Indeed some doctors specialized in slaves ...

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