Title: Mama Day
Author: Gloria Naylor
Paperback: 312 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
A fascinating novel that reworks elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. On the island of Willow Springs, off the Georgia coast, the powers of healer Mama Day are tested by her great niece, Cocoa, a stubbornly emancipated woman endangered by the island’s darker forces.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Andrew recommended this book to me and so far it’s my absolute favorite out of all of his recommendations. Willow Springs is an island that is part of the US, but doesn’t really belong to any state — it’s just sort of its own place. There, Mama Day is renowned for her powers as a healer and is often called upon to work some small bits of magic on people to help them keep their health. Her great-niece Cocoa has moved away from the island to live in New York, and when she comes to the island with her husband to visit, she catches the eye of a voodoo practitioner who’s been known to cast evil spells on women her husband finds pretty. Cocoa is put in trouble as the voodoo woman’s husband makes a pass at her, and Mama Day has to do everything in her power to save her great-niece from the woman’s curse.
The beginning starts off slow — I wasn’t a fan of the budding romance story line between Cocoa and George, though it’s important to the story overall. It’s a little dull, as they seem to love each other, but don’t really seem to be a good match for each other. George doesn’t want to make a lot of sacrifices to let Cocoa into his life, and Cocoa doesn’t seem to be willing either. They get into a lot of fights and play games with each other, but it somehow manages to even out and work between them. Once they’re established as a couple it gets better, especially when they visit Willow Springs with each other.
The parts that really brought me in were the magical realism elements; Naylor’s magical realism plays with the ideas of old wives’ tales and superstition, just giving them a whole lot more power than they really have. Mama Day is a great healer because she knows how plants work and how to use them on bodies to make them well. She’s also able to somewhat tell the future by reading the way nature behaves, which is an interesting take on how magic works. It’s incredibly believable and not at all jarring, which is nice. It’s also super interesting. All of the action that takes place at Willow Springs shines and makes the novel incredible.
This novel is something that I spent days thinking about after I finished it — it deals with how the past has its hold on all of us, how even our distant ancestors’ decisions weighs in on our lives and creates patterns that are difficult to break. It explores the power of woman and nature and how the ties between us and our loved ones gives us strength and also serve as weaknesses. I will say that though this is a Tempest reworking, I like this a whole lot better than The Tempest. It’s a wonderful, tragic story, and one of my favorites this year. Definitely recommend to those interested in magical realism, tales of family, and literary works.