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Seducing the Spirits

1 rating: 4.0
A book by Louise Young

Anthropologist Louise Young has turned her nearly two decades working with the indigenous Kuna people of Panama into a compassionate and passion-filled debut novel of a white woman's journey into this unique culture. Grad student Jenny Dunfrey is an … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Louise Young
Publisher: Permanent Press
1 review about Seducing the Spirits

Seduced! An absorbing and intriguing read

  • Oct 29, 2010

Louise Young’s novel Seducing the Spirits might provide a wise seduction for many spirits: The readers’ spirits most certainly and delightfully; that tortured American scientist spirit that wants to believe in innocence despite the ravages of power; the legalistic religious spirit that paints the world black and white and fails to see its own shades of gray; the conquering spirit of supposedly civilized pride…

The novel starts somewhat confusingly, and perfectly so. The narrator has landed on the shore beside the jungle and is going to spend the next few months observing an eagle’s nest. She’s there because she’s annoyed the program director. And she’s there, seemingly, without help or backup or even any clear instructions on what she must do. The only rule is “don’t piss off the natives,” which apparently includes an injunction to go to their meeting every Saturday even though she feels like a tall white alien.

The story pulls the reader in quickly with musical words and birdsong, with the taste of corn and chocolate, and the sticky sweat of jungle heat on the skin. Natives change from a blur of strangers into recognizable characters with different cares and concerns and even names. But the protagonist seems to have lost her own name. Defining herself by work, mocking her own insufficiencies and failures and feeling scorned and unloved by all around, her spirit waits to be seduced. Then slowly, she learns from those she’s been taught to believe are less than she.

The narrator’s uncertain faith—a memory of the story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ kindness to strangers—is contrasted first with the strident force of a travelling evangelist, and then with the loving touch of indigenous belief. Love indeed proves the stronger call. Meanwhile the identities of eagles are called into question, and their value proves greater to those who watch with love than it is to those who define with knowledge and power.

The author’s ability to convey the spiritual experience of the Kuna without evangelizing, criticizing or even rationalizing is amazing, letting the reader share in something beautiful, filled with love. By the end of the novel, the narrator is empowered by that love. The reader has enjoyed a wondrous seduction. And the author, as I learn on the back flap of the book, has chosen to work with the indigenous Kuna people, bearing witness to all that she’s told. Whatever our beliefs, if our eyes are closed to love then we’re the ones who need seducing for our spirits to be healed.

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