Highlights from Seducing the Spirits:
- This is a fictional novel written by anthropologist Louise Young who spent nearly two decades working with the Kuna people living on the San Blas Islands.
- The main character, Jenny Dunfrey, is a grad student sent to one of the remote islands to study a harpy eagle nest. She is the only white person living on the island.
- Jenny is given two directives regarding her interaction with the Kunas—she must attend their weekly town hall meetings and, by no means, is she to “piss off the natives.”
- This book is less about the harpy eagle and more about Jenny’s relationships with various Kuna tribe members, a modern day pirate, and an unstable missionary.
- Island life is slow, the weekly town meetings are boring, there’s only so much you can say about eagles nesting in a tree, and Jenny is in her mid-20s, so much of the story is dedicated to her relationships with several local and visiting men.
After The Path Between the Seas and The Darien Disaster, Seducing the Spirits was a refreshingly light read! Although it wasn’t the scientific sojourn into Panama’s rainforest that I expected, it did give me some valuable insight that will serve me well as an expat.
I thought I was embarking on a non-fiction journey with a real life young ornithologist student who would be sharing her observations of the harpy eagle and its habitat on one of the San Blas Islands. It turned out to be something quite different…
First, it’s definitely a novel—and a bit of a steamy one at that. While the main character, Jenny, is an ornithologist, she doesn’t share much about her long hours spent observing the eagles. Pretty understandable, as I imagine that might have a similar effect as a sleeping pill. The author’s focus is more on Jenny’s interactions with the Kuna people (primarily men) and the two quirky white visitors (also men) who pop in for occasional visits.
While from a purely literary perspective, this book fell a bit short for me, I’m definitely glad I read it as it gave me some helpful insight into the modern day Kuna culture. The result is deeper understanding and empathy for a people that fiercely protect their culture for good reason.
If you’re on a mission to learn more about Panamá as I am, this is a worthy read!