Thursday, July 9, 2009
Book Review: Seducing the Spirits by Louise Young
Seducing the Spiritsby Louise Young
Book: 320 pages
Publisher: Permanent Press
When you read Seducing the Spirits, I’m not quite sure who is really being seduced. As the reader, you will find yourself unable to avoid the seduction and allure created by the the author, Louise Young, who has a natural sensitivity and suavity for storytelling.
A lush tropical jungle somewhere bordering Columbia becomes the home for Jenny Dunfree, a grad student in tropical ornithology. Banished to this remote location by her insensitive slug of a boss, ostensibly due to a brief tryst they had, she is given two directives: first, continue the valuable research observing the rare harpy eagles and, second, don’t annoy or anger the Kuna indigenous people. Or more delicately put, "Don't piss anyone off."
She is disturbed to find out her presence is required each Saturday at a town meeting on the Kuna island. The project is very important to the Panamanian people, and her days are long and arduous. The weekly spectacle is the last thing she needs, but these meetings will become her lifeline. She makes friends with a host of characters who Young has defined with adroit perfection. The writer, who has lived among the Kuna people, gives you a sense of identity as she creates living characters who you would expect to find in the sultry seclusion of the rain forest.
When Jenny arrives for her first obligatory function, she becomes instantly overwhelmed with the cultural dissimilarity and odd array of villagers in attendance. Fortunately, she has the support of Pedro, a villager who speaks English and he becomes her liaison and friend. Although these meetings are an intrusive obligation at first, Jenny comes to rely on them as an essential insightful bridge to assimilation. Little does she realize they are for her protection as well. She is treated with respect and kindness by most villagers, but her blond hair is an enigma. When the Kuna people refuse to address Jenny by name, she is bewildered. She leaves with a sense of foreboding, knowing her acceptance will be a bit more complicated than she originally anticipated.
When Jenny meets Ceferino, a handsome, charming villager, he is an instant temptation, as if a seducing spirit lives within his hot body. They enjoy walking the paths of the mainland forest. They take pleasure in their surroundings, the stimulating scents of bountiful bouquets of erotic beauty. Jenny becomes entranced by the abundant animal life that shares equal space, undisturbed. She lives alone on the mainland, bravely. The Kuna people believe in a spirit world that can assume the body's soul, so they leave the mainland at night. When Jenny becomes seduced by the spirits that try to envelope her, it may be too late.
Louise Young writes in living botanical color, providing breathtaking visions of a perfect paradise. The delicate balance of living among indigenous people while respecting their values, culture and lifestyle is a lesson well learned in Seducing the Spirits.