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I purchased this novel because I saw the title on quite a few lists of the best books of 2012 and I wasn't disappointed in the least. It's a coming-of-age story at the centre of First Nation history, reservation life, Indian mythology, family, a horrendous crime and so much more. Wonderful, a 'do not miss' novel. I had some trouble with the narrator at first but became accustomed to his style. I could have listened to hours more.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
This book has been heavy in my head. Had I written a knee-jerk review 3 days ago from that thick head, I would have misinformed you. I hadn't synthesized the weight of all that is between the words: the legend and mythology that give eloquence to the silly ramblings of an old sleeping man; the traditions that guided the daily activities of the Native American characters; the history of duplicity that corralled a people into reservations and snuffed out their cultural identity. Heavy in my head because this book is structured so beautifully that much of it speaks to us from the spaces between the words--a language we grasp in our core consciousness. Now translated...the story is heavy in my heart.
The *Heads I win, Tails you lose* treaties that made a story like this possible, (virtually creating a Free Rape Zone) are in the words of this story's narrator, "a gut kick," that compounds an already tragic event. The characters are vividly written and fondly familiar as a family member or good neighbor. Especially compelling is the young Joe. (The story is recalled by an older Joe.) The violent hate crime perpetrated against his mother skins him of his innocence and naivete, catapulting him prematurely into a foreign adult world. His group of friends, their teenage rites of passages and proclivities, tentatively anchor him to his youthful life, and reminded me of the group of friends in Stand By Me (The Body).
There are many themes in this intricate and tense novel, some rooted generations deep. (Reading Native American literature sometimes makes me feel like a person with the same surname as a horrendous criminal must feel each time the name is broadcast.) Erdrich writing is stunning - almost painfully beautiful as she combines the contrasting elements that make up this profound story. I would say more profound, because of her craftsmanship, than *depresssing*...one of the words in reviews that kept me from listening before...
I have considered this book since it was published and passed for different reasons. The asides, or the stories told by the elders of the tribes, may seem like irrelevant ramblings, humorous or raunchy stories. Look passed the old Mooshum's dream-talking, and the aunts and grandmothers intent on embarassing the young boys with their youthful recollections--these stories are crucial to the heart of this story--they are the history, the scripture, the culture ties, the logic, and cleverly placed by Erdrich to keep the suspense in the forefront while adding perspective. Addressing the narrator: Gary Farmer is a Native American that has many acting credits and obviously has experience with script. His reading hit me as authentic rather than disruptive and added a necessary discomfort to the rhythm of words--because they should be a little uncomfortable in this context, and the story should sit heavy in our hearts.
I read that this novel is the middle of a trilogy (the first volume being Plague of Doves). I love finding an author that is new to me and I can't wait to read everything Erdrich has written. Very deserving of the the National Book Award.
48 of 53 people found this review helpful