The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara (book review)
Posted by Ray Schaufeld on Sat, 22 Jan 2022
As an old Englishwoman I can truly say that The Salt Eaters is the most demanding and also the most rewarding work of fiction that I have read for over 40 years.
The place is Southern USA in 1981.. Velma Henry has spent many years as a Black community activist, trying to sabotage the local nuclear power plant ('they' employ her because she is a highly qualified computer analyst). She and her girl buddies also try to mend warring factions within the struggle for emancipation and they constantly bust a gut ensuring that the Sisters have as much clout as the Brothers.
When she hits middle age it all gets too much (no surprise there!) and she ends up in the local funny farm.
However luck is on her side. The hospital is free and employs community healers who lay on hands and move her Spirit back along the cracks in order to mend her. The two old wifies in charge of the process have known her since she was newly born in fact old Minnie Ransom was her midwife and is still her godmother. The whole community wants her to get well and active again but how to reach her and stop her from struggling too hard and being 'her own worst enemy.?'
Whilst all sorts of stuff is thrashing around in Velma's body and head, seismic shifts occur outside the hospital walls. Thunder, torrential flooding. A big Festival is almost rained off. Can a wrecked theatre where Velmas man Obie once learned how to do magic shows be renovated? In the busy story background Velma's friends discuss and challenge the way things were and are while eating and drinking in a good cafe. A teenage mum-to-be waits with her young man inside the hospital. They are the future. With help things may turn out well. Battles can progress in a good way.Batteries can be recharged, lost souls can be re-grounded and restored.
The Salt Eaters demands involvement, immersion not skimming for the plot. It certainly shifted my head.. Let's just say I took 2 busses into Newton Abbot today and had a day which was both very ordinary and down to earth and also extraordinarily good.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman is a well-written work of fiction which employs a wide pantheon of myths in an effective and fast moving way. The Salt Eaters goes a good notch over and beyond.