Immortality, a blessing or a curse?
My Soul Keep by Tananarive Due tells the story of a group of men who have become immortal. They are each hundreds of years old. Each have gone through a ritual called the Life Ritual which allowed them to obtain a miracle blood that dispels death. One man, Dawit, is the center of the novel’s plot.
Over 500 years ago, Dawit attended a secluded meeting with his good friend, Mahmoud. This small group of men are anxiously waiting to hear from a man who seeks those interested in knowledge. Apprehension hangs around the group as they listen to the man, named Khaldun, speak of miracles. Khaldun reveals that he was present at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One of the men he was with stole some of Christ’s blood after his body was taken from the cross. A small amount of the blood, aptly called the Life Blood once Christ was resurrected, could heal any wound, virus, or even death. Khaldun explained to the awed men that he underwent the Life Ritual; a ritual performed on a recently dead corpse by injecting the Life blood into the dying veins. Those injected would never die. To prove his words, Khaldun sliced his belly open in front of the group. Each watched in horror as the man died before them. By morning, the men were awoken by Khaldun, who only had a fading scar across his abdomen; the only remnant of his brutal mutilation. Completely enthralled, each of the men agree to partake in the Life Ritual and accept poisoned bread to stop their heart and then some of Khaldun’s blood to restart it.
Centuries later, in the late 1990’s, Dawit is married to Jessica, a journalist, with a five year old daughter named Kira. After some unfortunate events including three murders, two of those being family or close friends to Jessica, she begins to question the odd circumstances surrounding her husband. Jessica starts to notice that his cuts and scrapes heal almost immediately. Even when he fell out of a tree in their backyard, his broken bones and deep gashes healed overnight. Dawit old excuse of having special blood has worn thin and Jessica is demanding the truth.
Reluctantly, Dawit takes Jessica to a secluded cabin deep in the Florida swamp where he shows her just how special the blood flowing through his veins is. He slices open his stomach, similar to Khaldun’s wound, in the cabin’s bathtub. Jessica is distraught when she finds her husband barely conscious, floating in a pool of his own blood. She tries her to best to stop the blood gusting from his self inflicted wound, but it’s too late. To her horror, Dawit’s life fades away. Knowing that help won’t arrive until the following evening, Jessica sobs herself to sleep on the bathroom floor next to her husband’s corpse.
Jessica awaken the next morning to see Dawit smiling apologetically from the tub. In a moment’s disbelief, Jessica tears away the sheet she used to stop the bleeding. All that remained from the previous nightmarish night was a jagged scar across his abdomen. Dawit then revealed some of the truth surrounding his miraculous awakening, mainly that he underwent a ritual that made him immortal. He told her that he had lived for over 500 years and has seen his friends, coworkers, and family succumb to death.
Not long after Dawit exposes some of the mystery surrounding his special blood, Mahmoud pays him a visit. The visit is not a friendly one, Dawit has broken the Covenant’s most important rule; secrecy. Mahmoud explains that Searchers will be coming to take Dawit away from his family, back to the Covenant’s secluded home. Not wanting to leave Jessica and Kira, Dawit makes a split second decision, he and his family were going to uproot from their Florida home and move to Africa where they were going to be together forever.
By this part of the novel, Jessica has developed conflicting feelings towards her husband. Although she continues to love him, she can’t fathom all the lies he has fed to her the entire time they knew each other. Frantically, she gathers her daughter and flees not knowing that she has been followed. She doesn’t get far until her follower catches up. While making a pit stop at a gas station, Mahmoud sabotages Jessica’s car. Terror creeps down Jessica’s spine when she realizes that Mahmoud is here to kill her and Kira.
Just before he can fire his gun, Dawit runs over his old friend. Dawit forcefully persuades Jessica to accompany him. After leaving Mahmoud’s slowly regenerating body in a secluded area, Dawit takes his wife and daughter to a run-down little motel where he prepares to perform the Life Ritual.
My Soul to Keep ends with Dawit and Jessica living apart from each other, both immortal. Jessica decides to put her new blood to good use. She and her sister set up a children’s clinic in Africa where they use Jessica’s blood to heal sick and dying children. Dawit eventually finds her to inform her that the clinic can’t be open forever, people outside of the area are beginning to notice the miraculous healing. Jessica coolly replies that they are prepared to move if necessary. Leaving Dawit to leave, somewhat reluctantly, his wife while patiently waiting for her to come back to him.
Although the beginning of the novel was a bit slow, I did enjoy this book. There were some parts that did seem a bit out of place, but they didn’t cause too much distraction from the plot. Tananarive Due is a great storyteller.