• Publisher: Amistad (May 26, 2015)
The New York Times bestselling author of Wench—called "a fascinating and tragic story" by NPR.org, "deeply moving" by USA Today, and "lyrical and devastatingly beautiful" by People magazine—returns to the Civil War era to explore history's next chapter in this powerful story of love and healing.
The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life.
Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others' suffering and ease it, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and continue to help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.
Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.
Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.
In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in an unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.
Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.
I’ve read books dealing with slavery and the emancipation of the slaves after the American Civil War. I’ve read books dealing with traditional herbalists from a variety of cultures. I’ve also read books that deal with trance mediums who can contact the spirits of the dead. Yet I’ve never read a book that focused on all three of these themes. Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is that book. I received two copies of this book for free in return for this review. They are a paperback ARC directly from the publisher, and a digital ARC via Edelweiss.
Because I have two copies, I decided to give away the copy of the print version to a lucky reader. Scroll down for the Rafflecopter Giveaway.
The slavery and emancipation theme was movingly portrayed through the perspective of Hemp Harrison. Since he found his slave name demeaning, he decided to name himself after the crop at the plantation where he was a slave followed by the surname of his former owner. I have often wondered why emancipated slaves chose to identify with slave owners. Hemp actually had an important reason. He was trying to reunite with his wife who had been sold away. He had no idea where he would find her. Hemp thought that his name might be a way for his wife to recognize that it was him searching for her. A great many slaves were in his situation after the Civil War. Dolen Perkins-Valdez depicts the affliction of separated African-American families through Hemp’s story.
Madge, an African American woman who was born free, was the herbalist. She was brought up in a family of rootworkers who made their living as healers. Herbalists were often suspected of practicing witchcraft. Madge did have a paranormal gift that facilitated her diagnosis of the conditions of her patients. She wanted independence and a successful career, and she was confident that she could achieve these goals. Yet something was missing in her life, and it took her some time to discover what that was.
The medium who heard the voices of the dead was Sadie, a white Civil War widow. I was particularly impressed by the fact that Sadie’s talent was genuine. I’ve read many books dealing with fraudulent mediums who are eventually exposed. I find that story line predictable and formulaic. Sadie had to deal with the voice of a dead man who sometimes came to her involuntarily without being summoned. She had to struggle to reclaim her freedom from that voice. She was in a state of inner conflict about her mediumship. I appreciated the complexity of Sadie’s characterization.
Sadie decided to employ Madge as a servant. The relationship between the two women was unsentimental and honestly portrayed. So if you’re looking for a novel about a heartwarming friendship that transcends the post-slavery rift between the races, Balm is not that book. I'm glad it isn't that sort of book since I don't subscribe to the delusion that two women could somehow cut through centuries of prejudice within a single generation.
This is a book that is primarily about healing. It's about the slow process of healing from the wounds of slavery, divided families and the mental anguish that resulted from these experiences. I am grateful for the artistry of this author that allowed her to shape a tale of three individuals that is also the story of the beginning of America's emergence from a terrible time in its history.
About Dolen Perkins-ValdezDolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. Her fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, and elsewhere. In 2011 she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, Dolen Perkins-Valdez lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.
Find out more about Dolen at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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