Seducing the Spirits
Author: Louise Young
ISBN: 978-1-57962-190-2 Pages: 304, $28.00, Publication Date: November, 2009, Hardcover, Fiction, Published by The Permanent Press
Louise Young’s debut novel, Seducing the Spirits, shows promising potential by a new author taking center stage in the literary world. Starting with a slow and peaceful pace, it quickly traps you into becoming involved in the jungle world of a 23-year-old graduate student who is studying harpy eagles in a rain forest. Main character, Jenny Dunfree, breaks some of the taboos which she had been warned about and interacts with the natives.
Set in the jungles of Panama, she spends many isolated days and nights on an island where her only company are animals and occasional visitors who pop in on her. She views the mating and birth of the eagles. Paid to watch, she surprisingly develops an unusual dedication to her job. Many of her predecessors did not; they left after short stays, some as soon as a day.
The Kuna tribal language is neither a Spanish off-shoot nor one that contains English. We learn various native words by progressing through the book. It is a tribal language, one from a real tribe, which the author met while working as a biologist and fiber artist. She states that writing this book as one of fiction and gives her an opportunity to introduce the Kunas to others in a way that will reflect what she has learned about them, but at the same time shall not violate their trust in her. Very little has been written about these people except for anthropological studies in the late twentieth century as they were very academic according to Young. She says, other books contained half-truths and misinformation.
Louise Young’s writing style is clear, concise, and entertaining. Descriptive passages of sitting in tribal counsels and not understanding the language are factual. When an interpreter is introduced, it becomes almost akin to a visit to the United Nations. First, the words are spoken in Kuna, then Spanish, and finally English. The reader will get a flavor of all languages, since nothing is left out. Also, just by repetition, many Kuna phrases will become a part of your vocabulary.
Above all, a love story develops between Jenny and one of the tribesmen. Interaction and good relationships makes this an unusual book. It is outstanding because of Young’s ability to bring insight into the lives of jungle people and is highly recommended. In fact, the publisher is nominating this book for consideration in two book-award contests.