Review: Manroot by Anne Steinberg

Manroot Book CoverToni Adams
SGLS Team Writer 


Looking for something different to test your reading palette? I present you “Manroot” by Anne Steinberg.

From the nature of this website and from the title, I bet you are all twittering and snorting. “Manroot” is not about smexy men with thick endowments. There is no smexy stuff. I was disappointed too. It is a novel that can be a struggle to read and to describe.

Steinberg is a wonderful storyteller. Not just an author but a really gifted story-teller. Even though some of the scenes were graphic and disturbing (there is a rape scene so I do warn you), I could not help but keep reading.

Before I write my reviews, I tend to read other reviewers work to see how it was perceived. Everyone wrote really nice reviews. The nice same reviews and with the same excerpt. As if saying: judge for yourself if you want to read this, I got nothin’.

The description of this novel was all over the place. I’ve seen this novel  described as a  romance, a tale of magic, a tale about a lonely town in Missouri, or that it’s centering around one character. Did we all read the same novel or did these people give up after the first few chapters?

From a simple single point, “Manroot” is a saga. It is a story that spans several decades and does not have a central character. It involves the actions of one generation affecting the next. A family tangled in a story involving folklore mysticism and many secrets.

The tale starts off with Katherine and her father wandering into a hotel looking for food and work. As her father spends his time drinking and eventually wandering off, Katherine works her a$@ off. Even when her f*&ked up father leaves (That is the truth, he is truly f*&ked up), she stays behind. Even when she realizes there is a scary spirit (?) in the river.

The core of where all the events are stemming from involves her relationship with one of the hotel’s guest. He is a very wealthy judge who spends once a week at the hotel. He and Katherine develop a relationship that leads to  several tumbles between the sheets. That sounds like a setting for a typical romance story. Except he’s married. Then she becomes pregnant and he casts her off in one of the most darkest and heartbreaking ways. The men in her life are a$$hats.

The second arc of the story is what happens with the twin babies that Katherine bears. She actually sends the babies down the river so that the Judge and his barren wife finds them. The couple adopts the babies and tells the whole town that the wife bore them. The twins grow up, rich and happy. Katherine watches them from afar in the role of eccentric nanny. Eccentric in that she can concoct healing herbs and heal animals.

The critical part of the story comes when the mysteries start to collide. The actual birth story of the twins, the premonition that Katherine has (“There was only meant to be one”), how the prologue ties into the whole story, and why the hell was she so afraid of the river.

It may sound like I gave away the whole story but I only scraped the tip of it. If you decide to read the book, this would be your tether rope to help you through the story. This is my encouragement: there is a point to this novel. It just takes a really long time to get there.

A strong atmosphere of folklore mysticism permeates the book but it is never explained what they are. This is so frustrating since I love reading about folklore magic. I was pretty miffed that there wasn’t more information on this Oh Mu, a spirit from the river that involves souls. I am assuming it’s a Native American folklore since that is her heritage.

I’m not even sure if there really was magic in the story. There were times when I was questioning Katherine’s sanity. I also wonder if she can actually do magic? Her affinity for animals points that she does but I view it more as a deep tie to earth. The story takes on a very depressing feel if she is just crazy, though.

An even bigger question, what does manroot have to do with this novel? Manroot is another name for ginseng. It is more known to grow in China but it can also grow in parts where it is very shaded in the US . Ginseng is believed to help in longevity and fertility but those attributes are not tied in the story. It is almost as if the manroot contains spiritual meaning. If there was one, it went completely over my head. Was the manroot an analogy for Katherine? Was it an analogy for love? Was it referring to the search for love?  I have no idea why the title is called “Manroot”. It should have been titled “Twins Are Unnatural” or “Oh my, it’s an Oh mu” or even “No one in this book knows what romance is”.

Even though there is no romance, I still read the book. Some would probably point out  that the relationship between the judge and Katherine is romantic. All I see is a sexually frustrated man dallying with a younger woman. She was in love, he was in lust. The way he cast her off and how he treated her afterwards gives more weight to that. When the twins get older, there is a romance but it’s barely there.

There is a lot of variations on the theme of love. The love that a mother has for her children. Betrayed love. Love between siblings. Love of the land and earth. Lots of love that causes a lot of chaos. Love is screwed up in this book.

I did not enjoy the book. I kept reading to figure out what the mystery was. When I got to that part, all I can really think was, “really.” It’s not very satisfying nor does it clarify anything. It does reaffirm that everyone in this story is bat sh@t crazy.  So many times, I wanted to put this book down out of frustration. I did not come away with any fuzzy feelings of happiness or content. Instead, I just felt really out of my element and a bit freaked out.

Good points to this story:

  • Steinberg is a gifted story-teller. Connecting this long-winded saga is no easy feat.
  • The use of the cat is pretty bad a$$.
  • Katherine’s way with animals.
  • The twins are every interesting.

Not so good points to the story:

  • The rape scene. I’m never comfortable with the subject. No matter how it ties in the story, this malicious act always upsets. It ranks high up there with killing animals and child molestation.
  • No romance.
  • The folklore wasn’t well explained.
  • The Judge and his wife are horrible people.

I’m not even sure who I can recommend this story to. If you’re in a bit of a book funk like I am, then I would recommend this. It is definitely not like any other story out there. It may give you a fresh outlook on novels or it may make you appreciate others.

I also dare you to read this story and not imagine the manroot as the mandrake from Harry Potter….

Length: Novel
Genre: Occult/Fantasy/Family Saga
Primary Book Format: print and e-format
Publisher/Imprint:  Amazon Digital Services
Blush Quotient: Non-existent
Smart Girls Rating:  3 Stars

Order it here: Amazon

Find out more info about the author and series here. (Author only has a Twitter account)

(Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author to enjoy and review.)