By Phil Whitley
R. J. Buckley Publishing, 2010
Granny Boo is the long-awaited sequel to Phil Whitley's first novel, 'Keechie'. I've been involved in this project personally - Phil asked me to create a painting for the book cover - and I was delighted when he, and his publisher, accepted the artwork that resulted (this photo shows Phil with the original painting). I really enjoyed his first novel, and have been looking forward to this second instalment for years.
I'm very pleased to report that 'Granny Boo' is as good as 'Keechie'. Whitley combines a very realistic, and often tragic history of Native American Indians in 19th Century Georgia, with a touching and poignant tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic U.S.
The country has succumbed to various terrorist atrocities that have destroyed the infrastructure holding civilisation together. In the resulting power vacuum, the West has once again become Wild. Brian and his family seek refuge in a secretly located cave, once inhabited by a Native American Indian woman decades before whom Brian had got to know very well in his youth, (the story related in 'Keechie'). The family must rely upon the survival skills he has acquired and remain hidden until the troubles die down. They become extremely wary of strangers, and with good reason.
The cities, in the surrounding State, descend into chaos, and the countryside becomes the hunting ground for malicious criminals. It is hard for anyone to know who to trust anymore, as resources become increasingly scarce, and law enforcement disappears.
To Brian's delight, his wife and daughter embrace the old Indian ways. As an insular unit they thrive through adversity - in stark contrast to the collapsing civilised world around them. They are soon joined by an old friend of Brian's - a black man equally comfortable with leaving his old life behind. Their adjustment to a more rugged, hunter/gatherer existence is supported, and given more relevance, by the stories of Keechie, and her ancestors before her. In particular, the family discover enchanting stories about Granny Boo, Keechie's maternal grandmother. Both were Spirit Singers who maintained a old ways through times of increasing difficulty.
In the 19th century, Granny Boo's tribe faced extermination by the white settlers, and spent their lives in seclusion in the creek valley now inhabited by Brian and his family. In turn, his present day family take inspiration from the stories in Keechie's journals, and learn how to use the old ways to ensure their own survival. Their journey takes on an increasingly spiritual element as the ancestor spirits, and the powerful, protective Puma Man spirit, make their presence felt.
This book details the heart-warming story of life in the secluded valley, and the many resources Brian, Mary, Alex and Maurice call upon from ancient lore. The narrative is punctuated by a series of short stories relating to times gone by. Many of these charter the life of Granny Boo as a young woman as she finds love, and perseveres through tragedy. Other stories are myths from the indigenous peoples of the area which have survived to the present day. All are fascinating, and successfully transport the reader to a different time and culture.
There is a running theme of empathy with the indigenous peoples of Georgia throughout. In a way, this reflects other work emerging from America at the moment, like Avatar. The genocide of the Indians seems to rest heavily upon the American psyche at the present time. There is also a palpable feeling of the need to re-engage with nature.
Finally, I was struck with how the book essentially honours the preceding generations of Indians who lived in the area. This reflects the practices of the Indians themselves, and seems rather apt. The book honours the memories of fictional characters whose lives seem very real. It crescendos on a spiritual level as Brian's family discover that their connection with history runs deeper than they could possibly have imagined.
'Granny Boo' is an inspiring novel. It will appeal to anyone interested in the cultures of Native American indians, and to anyone who loves listening to a good story around a campfire.
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 14th April 2010
Reviews of other titles by this author:
'Keechie' by Phil Whitley
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