Donna Johnson was 3 years old when her mother, Carolyn, signed on as an organist for (and later lover of) David Terrell, a charismatic traveling preacher and healer who "could scat on scripture like a jazz singer hopped up on speed." In Holy Ghost Girl, Johnson explores her years of roaming "the sawdust trail" of Terrell's revival tents—canvas "ad hoc cathedral(s)" pitched on the edge of Southern towns—until his ministry grew to include a syndicated radio show, annual missionary trips to India, and a magazine with a 100,000-plus circulation. But as the preacher's fortunes rose, so, too, did his paranoia and greed; at one point, having fathered three children with Carolyn and at least one with another woman, he fell afoul of the IRS and was sentenced to a stint in jail. Yet for all the disaster that seems inevitable from the opening pages of this plainspoken memoir, Johnson still maintains some affection for the part-time charlatan who was often caring and loving to her, as well as an unwitting civil rights activist. (He faced down the Ku Klux Klan, insisting his congregation stay integrated.) It is not until long after Johnson has lost touch with Terrell that she can begin to understand he was both prophet and liar. And therein lies the paradox at the center of Johnson's story, in which faith and love live alongside anger and betrayal.
— Judy Bolton-Fasman
Printed from Oprah.com on Tuesday, December 10, 2013