Book Review: My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
Series: African Immortals #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager (1997)
Author Info: tananarivedue.com
Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
“My mother used to say to me that she collected sorrows and put them in her pocket. Walking around with them that way, by and by, you just learn to carry them all a bit better, to stand up a bit straighter. That’s all life is, on this earth anyway.”
Dawit is an immortal. 500 years ago, he was gifted with eternal life. Initially, this meant living life to the fullest, learning, loving, and leaving, as long as he didn’t break the rules of sharing the secrets of his brotherhood. This is obviously where our drama come in, because Dawit’s love for music draws him to the ever-evolving mortal world where, every once in a while, he falls in love with a soul that speaks to his own. Even though he knows it cannot be forever.
Jessica believes David to be everything she could possibly want in a man, a husband, a friend, and a father. But what she does not know about his past begins to catch up when her investigative journalism leads her on a path that brings his previous life into focus.
Due tells the story from mainly Jessica and Dawit’s points of view. From the beginning, we know what he is and learn more about his past and present, including the very powerful reason why he chooses to say in the United States, despite living through the horrors of slavery as a black man. Due skillfully blends actual history with the fantasy of the story. We know what Dawit does to keep his secret, so it is the question of how Jessica will find out that drives the plot.
Jessica’s denial or lack of realization is sometimes frustrating, but only because it is realistic when we consider how easily strong emotions can have us convince ourselves to accept lies even when the truth hangs right before our faces. Due takes the time to show how easily people can be blinded, even and especially by the ones we love the most. This isn’t Stockholm Syndrome. It’s the reality of relationships where you can write off those “little things” until you suddenly find that your world has fallen apart. At that point, it seems like the person you loved is suddenly a stranger, but in reality, those “little things” have always been there, trying to warn you of the truth. Though things drag in places, Due does a stellar job of taking us through Dawit and Jessica’s relationship such that, when things eventually fall apart, there’s still uncertainty as to which direction it will all go.
One of the things I admire in Due’s writing is the way she deals with the human body. I love how she is unafraid to let her characters express themselves through their emotional and mental state, and how their bodies reflect this. Not just the pretty or sexy parts. From sweaty armpits to morning breath, attention to such detail might seem squicky to some, but to me, it lends authenticity and relatability to the characters.
The various ways in which Due ingrains her characters into the reader’s mind makes me admire her writing style and want to read more. Nalo Hopkinson’s quote on Due’s short story collection, Ghost Summer Stories is most apt:
“Tananarive Due’s characters quietly into your heart and take up residence. You love them, you fear for them, and they scare you half to death.”