Okeyo A. Jumal,
Spiritual Shackles
(Griot, 2005)

Spiritual Shackles is a most intriguing story that juxtaposes fiction and fact. Historian Okeyo A. Jumal uses deft precision in drawing on his knowledge of black American history whilst creating contemporary mystic and magical characters.

The story begins with a series of unexplained church fires. Gradually, characters are introduced chapter by chapter in an episodic fashion. The central theme is based around five children, who for different reasons had been temporarily abandoned by their families and put in foster care with Mama Vye, a spiritual woman who embraces African cultures and healing remedies. Always referring to her wards as "divine children," we find that these children grow into influential anti-establishment adults who question political and religious taboo. They mingle with the top black figures in America, and names such as Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali and Alex Haley are affiliated with Vye's foster offspring.

The beauty of this novel is that there are many love affairs and stories entwined with the historical aspects of the novel. We have treacherous sibling rivalry between brothers Lionel and Rondell, which leads to tragedy. Stoney and Rachel (who eventually adopt more African names) embark on a journey to discover their buried roots. And there are mystical and metaphorical themes that are omnipresent throughout these stories of exotic locations and people.

I also loved how the children rediscover their biological parents and how the reader finds out the true reasons for their abandonment. The novel comes full circle in the end and the characters attain a true epiphany, through a mental out-of-body experience that takes them through the past, present and future.

Although a long book, it never becomes prosaic or has its intensity mitigated. Stick with it, as you will not be disappointed. I would not be surprised if it is picked up for a Hollywood film.

by Risa Duff
4 November 2006

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