THE SPIRITS SPEAK by Nicky Arden

THE SPIRITS SPEAK

One Woman's Mystical Journey into the African Spirit World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Arden, a white South African who left her homeland in 1966 for the US, returns and trains to become a sangoma, a traditional healer; her first book is a mostly absorbing description of this spiritual and political journey. Arden goes back to South Africa filled with guilt and shame about her whiteness. After a series of visions, she visits a black seer who tells her that she has ``the spirit'' and must study to become a sangoma. What ensues is an often moving tale of a white woman struggling to reach across racial barriers in a dramatically charged environment, a Westerner trying to let go of her skepticism about superstition and alternative healing, and an individual finding that she possesses completely unexpected powers. Her descriptions of the African landscape are stunning in their visual specificity. However, there are points at which Arden's originality flags; she slips in a fair number of appeals to the ``universe,'' not to mention references to ``Mother Earth'' and her ``nurturing `' powers. The final kicker, though, is in the last paragraph: ``We rode into that enchanted sunset.'' Sometimes, too, her descriptions are a bit repetitive--she too often uses the adjective ``salmon'' to describe the sky, for instance. Throughout, too, her narrative displays far too little sense of humor, considering the absurdity of many of the predicaments she faces. She is a Californian vegetarian who is ethically and viscerally squeamish about killing animals--a crucial part of sangoma training and ritual--yet she is relentlessly earnest about these conflicts. Should interest anyone who wants to know more about race relations, post-apartheid South Africa, or traditional healing; it is also a strong and unusually concrete spiritual memoir, despite some triteness and a distressing humorlessness.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4207-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996