The novel The Healing (DoubleDay) by Jonathan Odell centers on Granada, a young, dark-skinned house slave who is an unwitting pawn in the vengeance-filled and insanity-laced relationship between Mistress Amanda and her husband, Master Ben. When Master Ben buys healer and midwife Polly Shine and brings her to the plantation to cure the slaves of "black tongue" (a vitamin deficiency), Granada is kicked out of the house and forced to become Polly's apprentice. Polly tries to teach Granada not only about about how to cure illness, but also finding a place in the world. The young girl resists, and fights her in every lesson. On the surface, the character Polly Shine skates close to yet another portrayal of a "magical negro." However, Odell manages to save her from this unfortunate, two-dimensional archetype. Her wisdom and healing are not mystical, and are not used in service of a white protagonist. Her powers are rooted, rather, in common compassion and her hard-earned knowledge, which are used to treat her fellow slaves. Odell has created utterly believable characters in a complicated narrative. Most interestingly, he draws attention to a sometimes misunderstood and historically under-represented person from American history: the slave midwife.
Sat., Aug. 18, 2 p.m., 2012