Review — THE SHAMAN OF TURTLE VALLEY by Clifford Garstang (Korea)



The Shaman of Turtle Valley
by Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77)
Braddock Avenue Publisher
396 pages
May 2019
$18.95 (paperback)

Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64)

This novel spans the world from the Great Valley of Virginia beginning with its pre-Revolutionary War settlers all the way to Korea during the conflict known as the Korean War and back again to Virginia in 1996.  Location is everything in this novel and even takes on the role of a character in many ways.  It provides not only scenery vividly described and history essential to the plot but contains ghosts, memories, dreams, spirits, healing, death and life itself.  It is essential to the mysteries of the plot.

The story revolves around a young man, Aiken Alexander, as he completes his service in Korea,  whose family lives in Turtle Valley in Virginia and brings home a very young Korean wife who must adjust to life far from her beloved homeland.  Complications abound!

A unique factor in this novel is that each character takes on the role of narrator off and on throughout the duration of the story.  They are not introduced by name so the reader has to know enough about the characters to know within a sentence or two who is talking/thinking/doing at that particular time.  Some chapters are only one page long but each carries the reader one step further into exploring and resolving the mysteries encountered by the characters.  Garstang has an imaginative creative  talent of weaving various threads of the story together to create a beautiful tapestry.

Swirling around the main characters are mysterious hints of ancient spirits, folklore, witchcraft, wisdom of gods, of ancient cultures both in Virginia and in Korea.  Who is the Shaman of Turtle Valley?  Is it a spirit called by Soon Lee, an old man that suddenly appears, from time to time?  Is it Aiken’s mother or is it Soon Lee?

Aiken’s healing process involves haunting memories of fighting in Korea, coping with his mysterious weird wife, watching the beautiful son he loves, suspicions of other family members with questionable intentions, the death of his father and mysterious illness of his mother, all which leads him to move home and start cleaning out the barn left untended by his elderly father.  His “becoming aware “ healing process is aided by designing, building and selling bird houses ..….lots of them!

The many threads of the story weave together slowly and steadily leaving readers to consider how Aiken and his son’s futures evolve over time in what feels like a positive path . . . at long last!

Sue Hoyt Aiken served in the Peace Corps after finishing Colorado College in 1962.  She taught English language and literature to Ethiopian high school boys in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (1962-64). Her family history inspired her to volunteer in a program based in Africa as her grandparents were Quaker missionaries in Kenya where Sue’s father was raised.  She now lives in Santa Rosa, CA.  Sue has two adult children, Kelly and Ben, and four grandchildren.  She was not aware that “Aiken” is also a first name! 

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