As I sit to write a review on this book, I’m still not sure how I feel about it exactly. And I suppose that’s ok with me.
The Healing begins with Gran Gran helping Violet, a young girl who’s mother has just passed away. Gran Gran fears that Violet’s body will heal, but her mind will remain broken. The only thing that seems to calm her is hearing the old stories. So Gran Gran tells her story to the girl, beginning around the time of her birth as a slave. The book jumps backwards and forwards between the two time periods, always in a manner that is easily followed. The story captured me. The characters and I didn’t really speak the same language, but they made themselves understood nonetheless.
I’ve said before that I don’t like being told how to think about something, and I felt that way about this book. That I was being coached in the ways of Polly’s religion. Polly is a slave that bursts onto the scene when a doctor is needed for the slaves. The master buys her and then basically does whatever she tells him to do. In return, she heals a group of slaves that previously had no hope of survival. She takes Granada on as an apprentice and proceeds to teach her how to be herself. There are so many pearls of wisdom woven through this book; about being who you were created to be, not who you’ve been told you are; about freedom being something you find in your mind before it is realized physically; about family and belonging and healing. But, there was too much “my god is better than your god” for me to be completely comfortable.
Another thing that I often wonder with historical fiction is how much of people’s attitudes and thoughts are shaped by current standards and thoughts. There were so many times that I thought the slaves acted like servants rather than slaves. As if they had freedoms that I didn’t understand slaves to have.
But always I go back to the parts that I loved, and this line at the end when Gran Gran is describing a group of boys is one of my favorite things of all, “…self assured yet with faces fixed in innocent wonder. The Lord could show Himself at any second and they would see Him first, for He was already in their eyes.” Lines like this kept me reading in expectation. That Jonathan Odell would understand everyday things, while approaching them in a way that highlights something new and amazing.
I downloaded Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself one day when I was browsing the free books on the Kindle. Along with The Baker’s Daughter, this book has gotten me thinking about my role in this world. Am I purposely making myself ignorant of those around me who are in danger? “In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to go on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause of humanity.”
In the book, Harriet goes by the name Linda. She was born to a slave woman and in her time, “the child follows the condition of the mother.” If the mother is a slave, the baby is as well, and belongs to the master of the mother. Her story is unique in many respects. She is raised surrounded by her family; she learns to read and write alongside her little mistress; and she acquires freedom for herself and her two children.
While her story has many unique elements, it is bound together with all slaves: past, present, and future, who share the feeling that as one created in the image of God, they should not be owned by another person. When she finally gets her freedom, here are her thoughts, “A gentleman near me said, ‘It’s true; I have seen the bill of sale.’ ‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of a bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his.”
Friends, I feel inadequate to write this review. I could not put this book down. I don’t feel like I should say that I enjoyed it, as it was a chronicle of so many’s suffering. But, every time I was forced to put it down, I grabbed it back up again as quickly as I could. I think you’ll feel the same way about it. Not only will you want to keep reading, I think you should read it. I think it is important for everybody to read this book.