When the daughter of a woman who has overdosed on a potion meant to induce an abortion comes into former slave Gran Gran’s care, she recalls the saga of plantation slaves to whom emancipation eventually came, an exodus for some while others remained rooted to the soil of their captivity.
Young Granada enjoys the relatively privileged life of a house slave with the added perk of being the mistress’s pet, occasionally dressed up in the finery of a deceased daughter whose demise remains shrouded in the whites’ refusal to admit their daughter succumbed to a disease that afflicts slaves. The odd charade of Granada’s special treatment is a sticking point between Master Ben and his laudanum-addicted, unstable wife, who blames her husband for their daughter’s death. Enter Polly Shine, purchased at great expense for her renown as a healer in the hopes that she will save slaves from plagues that ravage the plantation. Shine needs an apprentice and sees something in Granada, despite the girl’s ill-placed affection for her white masters. Granada finds herself exiled from the plantation house, relocated to Polly’s quarters, the plantation hospital. The high-spirited, mysterious and shamanistic Polly is feared and reviled for her strange ways until her undeniable healing powers gain her almost universal acceptance among the field slaves after she cures them of black tongue. But the latitude this earns her, unusual for a slave, is resented by some: the house slaves, a white overseer and Granada, who pines for her former comfort. Polly overcomes Granada’s recalcitrance, cultivating the girl’s vision, a unique perceptiveness that is essential to her becoming a healer. Granada vacillates in her loyalties between her master and his house and Polly, who urges her to explore her origins and who gains, to some extent, Granada’s love and respect, despite the old healer’s acerbic tongue and unorthodox speeches about the coming of freedom. Granada cannot deny the increasing vividness of her dream visions, as well as the pull of her origins. Plantation life is dangerous to body and soul, and Granada finds herself caught in a plot against Polly, torn between betrayal and self-discovery. Will she play Judas to her mentor? Will she ultimately obtain redemption and become a healer?
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.