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My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due (thoughts)

December 22, 2011

This is my third experience with Due: I’ve read two of her ghost stories (The Between and The Good House) with mixed success. But I could feel a bit of a spark, something that told me I could really connect with her writing if I just found the right book. And I’m delighted to report My Soul to Keep was just the ticket!

I’ve been in a horror-ish mood in general lately, although I prefer my horror to be of the psychological/suspense variety. So I actually thought this was another ghost story until I started reading, when I discovered that it’s actually a kind of riff on vampires. David, one of the main characters, is an ‘immortal’: centuries ago, in his native Ethiopia, he met a wise man who used some kind of blood ritual to make a group of other men immortal. The intent was to create an eternal company of scholars: together, the men study various liberal arts (as I would call them) as well as more religious/spiritual traditions (is any other nerd out there thinking this sounds like the best thing ever?). Other than their immortality, they don’t have much in common with vampires, though: no drinking blood, avoiding sunlight, etc. Anyway, David has kind of ‘gone rogue’ by creating a family and settling down in modern-day Miami: the book’s plot hinges on the pull between his desire to be a family man and his dark-ish past, which he’s desperate to keep hidden from Jessica, his wife.

I loved Jessica: she’s a strong, independent woman, and as an investigative reporter she’s anything but an oblivious heroine. While she does love David (who, in a fun role reversal, is a stay-at-home dad), she’s not willing to excuse anything in the name of that love. Due kept the pacing spot-on, and I enjoyed the shift in perspective between Jessica and David as the plot unfolded.

My Soul to Keep will probably never make it into a literary ‘canon’, but it’s a smart, refreshing, suspenseful novel that perfectly satisfied my readerly mood. You can’t ask for more than that! It’s actually the first in a series, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the characters next. I definitely recommend this for those who enjoy psychological horror/speculative fiction, especially for it’s non-Eurocentrism (Ethiopia is so fascinating, and it makes complete sense as an epicenter for ‘immortals’!). Even if you’ve been overloaded by vampire fiction. ;)

Suggested Companion Reads

  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Another neat take on vampires, which hews more closely to the ‘traditional’ aspect and is a bit more ‘literary’.)
  • Notes From the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia (If the brief bits of the novel set in Ethiopia make you curious, this is a wonderful memoir by an Ethiopian.
  • The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (I have to include a nod to the mother of the contemporary vampire genre! ;) This is actually about witches and ghosts, not vampires, but it’s my favourite.)
5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2011 9:51 am

    Sounds really interesting and certainly would be new and different compared to what I have been reading lately.

  2. December 22, 2011 10:53 am

    Oooooh, this sounds wonderful!!! *immediately runs to add to wish list*

  3. December 22, 2011 12:23 pm

    Sounds interesting and speaks to the fact that it isn’t always wise to give up on an author too easily. Many times you are just one book away from connecting to their writing as you have found here. You are also reminding me that while I have read the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice I have yet to read The Witching Hour and I have had the paperback on my shelf since the mid-90’s!

  4. December 28, 2011 7:57 pm

    I read this book years ago and loved it sooo much I gave it to three friends as “just because gifts” They all loved it too.

  5. January 5, 2012 8:21 pm

    I read this, but clearly I need to re-read it…and the sequels too!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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