“If you want to empower a people, give them a story to share” – “The Tiger’s Wife” and “The Healing”

March 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm 9 comments

I have been a bit off my usual reading track.  For about a week I just couldn’t find anything that caught my interest (though my “to read list” is very, very long).  What I finally read was “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht for book club and “The Healing” by Jonathon Odell – both were completely different but both focus on the powerful connectedness and healing that story-telling can bring.

I know there has been a lot of buzz about “The Tiger’s Wife” and there are a lot of reviews out there so I will keep this short.  This story is set, for the most part, after the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.  Natalia is a doctor traveling through her war torn country assisting with medical care for orphans when she finds out that her grandfather has died.  This leads her to remember all of his stories that she grew up with and that shaped her.  There is a power in her remembering – it helps her face her grandfather’s death and carries her grandfather’s stories into the next generation.  There is a lot more to this novel but I think the most beautiful part for me was the connection between Natalia and her grandfather.  What I also loved about this novel was the mystical element of the story-telling – it gives the novel a spirit that I find lacking in a lot of literature.

I then came across “The Healing” at the library.  It was published this year and it was by an author I had never heard of.  It begins in 1931 with Gran Gran an old African-American woman in the South who finds herself caring for a little girl, Violet, who has just lost her mother.  Trying to heal Violet’s sorrow, Gran Gran begins telling her the story of her life as a slave.  Gran Gran, then Granada, was the replacement child for the white mistress on the plantation when her own child died.  Though Granada was “black as coal” the mistress would still dress her up in her dead child’s clothes and parade her around.

All of this changes when Polly Shine is purchased by the Master and brought to the plantation to heal the slaves who have contracted the “blacktongue.”  Polly picks Granada as her apprentice. Granada spends a lot of time angry that she has been taken out of the house and furious that she is no longer the Mistress’ dress up toy.  But while Polly works at healing the slaves she also works on healing Granada’s understanding of who she truly is and where she belongs.  She teaches Granada the truth of slavery and the importance of Granada’s connectedness to her people.

  “When I speak of the people I ain’t talking about the flesh, the blood. It’s their voices. Their yes’s and no’s. That’s what holds muscle to bone the biggest things the white takes from us ain’t our bodies. He takes our voices, too.” 

As Gran Gran sits with Violet weaving her stories she watches Violet become strong enough to face her own life story and together they are able to start over with new voices that are their own.

I found “The Healing” extremely powerful.  The character of Granada was hard to like because she seemed so dense at times it was frustrating.  But again, the reader has the power of hindsight and the convenience of freedom so understandably there is a disconnect.  This issue with Granada is happily complimented by the latter evolved Gran Gran – so as the reader, I was committed to finding out how Granada matures and becomes such a beautiful person.

I was a bit disturbed by the fact that this book about slavery is again written by a white Southern gentleman.  Considering the quote about slaves losing their voices I do worry when some of the most popular books about slavery and the civil rights period are written by white people (think “The Help”).  But when I finished this book I read the author’s “A note to the reader” which explained why this story was important to him.

Perhaps my favorite part of this “note to the reader” was where Mr. Odell’s African-American friend advises him saying “Don’t you dare write another To Kill a Mockingbird…Self-respecting black folks hate it.  Whites get to feel sorry for the poor, ignorant, and powerless black man…I’d rather your book be about a black scoundrel, just as long as he’s a full-blooded and complex human being.  We don’t need any more victims for you white folks to feel sorry for. I don’t want my children to have to read one more book about a pitiful black man who needs saving by the white man.”

Frankly, I think Odell did just what his friend asked. His characters are self-serving, confused, cruel, loyal, loving, self-sacrificing, broken and brilliantly healed.  They are people, not caricatures.  And even though it shouldn’t be, this is very rare in literature addressing our dark history of slavery.

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Entry filed under: March 2012 reads. Tags: , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jon Odell  |  March 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Love your take on “THE HEALING”. I’m honored you thought so well of it.

    Jon Odell

    Reply
    • 2. Emily C  |  March 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Thank you for reading my review and commenting! Your writing is truly wonderful. I am looking forward to reading your first book “The View from Delphi.” Best wishes and I hope you keep writing.

      Emily

      Reply
  • 3. Nella  |  March 5, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Hi – ‘The Healing’ sounds very similar to a book by Andrea Levy called ‘The Long Song’. You should have a look at it – it gave me great insight into slavery and the cruelties of slavery in the Caribbean.

    Nella

    Reply
    • 4. Emily C  |  March 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      I really like Levy’s writing as well. BBC made “The Long Song” into a miniseries and it was really well done. If you didn’t see it, you should.
      I hope you are doing well.

      Reply
  • 5. Claire 'Word by Word'  |  March 5, 2012 at 5:15 am

    ‘The Healing’ sounds like a good find, thanks for an insightful review and for sharing the authors instructions from his friend.

    Like you, I liked the mystical element of ‘The Tiger’s Wife’, it challenges us to try and understand what it all means, if indeed it means anything.

    I like books that don’t spell it all out, that leave something to the reader’s imagination. Two I recently read are a little like that, ‘The Woman in Black’ and ‘The Snow Child’, both highly recommended.

    Reply
    • 6. Emily C  |  March 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      Thank you for the recommendations – I am excited to add them to the list. Lately I have been having a hard time finding reading that interests me, which is strange for me, so recommendations are much needed.

      Reply
  • 7. hopesquires  |  March 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for giving me some more books to add to my reading list! I hope you’ll let me know if you end up reading any of the ones you found on my recent list, and I look forward to keeping up with your reviews!

    Reply
    • 8. Emily C  |  March 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      I was very happy to find your list – I have only read “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” – so you gave me some great books to add to my list. Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog as well. Happy reading!

      Reply
  • […] you can see in his writing that this author has a story all his own.  I really liked his book “The Healing” and was happy to come across this book at my favorite local book store The Book Loft (little plug […]

    Reply

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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