This was an unusual book. I wasn't even sure I was going to review it. Didn't know if I should recommend it or not. But these are my thoughts...you decide.
"The Spirit of Sweetgrass" is the story of an elderly black woman named Essie Mae. Essie Mae weaves beautiful baskets made of sweetgrass, pine needles and other natural materials, and sells them at her roadside stand.
Essie Mae's husband, Jim, has passed away, but he sits with her each day as she waits to see who will buy her baskets. They converse about the events in her life, and he advises her from time to time about decisions she should make. Essie can see Jim because she asked to see him, and there he was.
She also has a strained relationship with her daugher, Henrietta. The story opens with Retta attempting to move her mother into a nursing home, which, while humorous, reveals the fear of every elderly person...to be put away, forgotten, and to lose their independence.
EJ is Essie's grandson, and the two are close...so close, that he confides in her when he can't tell his parents. He is the one who brings her the sweetgrass, and who built her roadside stand, and who is there for her every step of the way.
Essie longs to be with her husband, Jim, and to see Jesus face to face. Jim tells her a way they can be together in heaven forever, and Essie takes steps to see that it happens.
What results is either a view of heaven that I don't know I agree with, or an old woman's wish for what heaven is as she lay dying. I'm not quite sure, but it disturbed me some.
The richness of the culture of deep Louisiana and the gullah heritage, the language and the rhythm of life are true and ring out clearly in this novel. The Biblical view of eternity and heaven seem a bit muddy. And there are elements of voodoo, or "hoodoo", but they are ultimately revealed for the demonic activity that they are...I think.
This is a novel of faith in Jesus, of love for family, and of the power of prayer. Some elements disturbed me, and I'm still deciding what to think. So read "The Spirit of Sweetgrass" cautiously if you choose to read it.
I'm giving this one two bookmarks, simply because I'm not sure how I feel about it. The writing is good, powerful story-telling...which could be why I feel so disturbed. Quite possibly it is a cultural thing...I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
And I will carefully check out future novels by Nicole A. Seitz...
Edited to add: Quite often I receive emails from people who read my reviews. Occasionally, I'll receive an email from an author. Concerning this review, if you disagree with me, that's fine. You are entitled to your opinion, and I'm entitled to mine as well. I've re-read my own review, and I stand by what I've written. And, if you read the review carefully, you'll notice I had more GOOD to say about "Sweetgrass" than negative, AND I said I'd most definitely read more novels by Nicole.
But, as a responsible reviewer, it is my task to tell about ALL the elements in a novel, and that is what I have done. I'm sorry if it offends you, but I do feel a note of caution is warrented here. And no, we won't know what heaven is like until we are there...but we can get a pretty clear idea from Scripture, and believe me, I've done my fair share of reading and research on my future home. So, in my opinion, the theology represented on heaven in this novel is a bit dangerous. Read it for yourself and see if you doubt me.
And if you disagree with this review, or any other, you're entitled to. Just don't "push" me to change my views or edit my review. I don't post them if I won't stand by them (there's been one exception to that rule, and it was for a Biblical reason that I will not discuss here--email me if you want to know why).
I love Nicole. She's my sister in Christ, and I believe she is a strong believer and has sound faith in Jesus. I'm reviewing her BOOK, not her and not her faith. I never make it personal about the author OR the reader...so don't make it personal about me either, please.