In 1847, on a steamy summer night on the Satterfield plantation in Mississippi, a knock on the cabin door awakens 14-year-old Ella and her husband, Thomas. Plantation lackey Old Silas and Sylvie, the Satterfields’ master cook, have been dispatched to bring Ella and her newborn daughter, Yewande, from the slave quarters to the mansion.
Plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield, bereft after the loss of her only child, wants to keep the slave child to replace her beloved daughter Becky, who has died from cholera. To avenge her husband Master Ben’s refusal to get a doctor in time to heal Becky from the “slave’s” disease, Mistress Amanda claims the new child as her own. She renames the infant Granada and dresses her in Becky’s clothes, but she is cold and distant to the replacement child.
"Jonathan Odell’s THE HEALING is a haunting tale of Southern fiction peopled with vivid and inspiring personalities."
Mistress Amanda’s behavior, fueled by her addiction to laudanum, grows more bizarre, even after the birth of her son, Little Lord. As years pass, Amanda ignores Little Lord in favor of Daniel Webster, a Capuchin monkey who is her constant companion. Amanda’s disturbing and dangerous activities embarrass and trouble Master Ben, but are a source of amusement for their white neighbors and the slaves.
Years later, after another deadly disease breaks out among the slave population, Master Ben is desperate to save his slave “stock.” In an act of desperation, he borrows money and rides to North Carolina to purchase Polly Shine, a slave healer.
With Polly’s arrival, life on the Satterfield plantation changes dramatically. As Polly rolls up her sleeves and begins healing, she feeds the bodies and souls of her patients and whispers words of hope into their ears. Polly is called a witch by some and a savior by others. Not long after her arrival, Polly recognizes that Granada also has a special gift. Before Polly can mentor the slave girl, she must wrestle her away from Mistress Amanda’s crazed grip and convince Granada that her place is not in the mansion but among her own people.
Decades later, in the winter of 1933 --- a lifetime after Yewande was spirited away from her teenage mother’s arms --- a young girl is abandoned at the kitchen doorway of an old Mississippi plantation, the home of aging healer Gran Gran. The seven-year-old girl’s name is Violet. Her mother has died after not following an earlier treatment administered by Gran Gran. While the aging healer ministers to Violet, the girl’s presence revives Gran Gran’s memories of her life on the plantation, especially those of the miraculous healer, Polly Shine.
Jonathan Odell’s THE HEALING is a haunting tale of Southern fiction peopled with vivid and inspiring personalities. Midwife and healer 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.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on March 15, 2012