Monday, November 23, 2009


The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008, 311 pp

Another great story from Louise Erdrich, told through the eyes of three different characters. Thus does the author demonstrate the tangled threads of Native Americans, French explorers and other European immigrants who have woven their destinies together. In generations past, in North Dakota, the slaughter of a white farming family was blamed on Ojibwe Indians, but the truth of the incident lives on in fragments among both the white and Native American descendants.

One of these is Evelina Harp, daughter of a white father and an Ojibwe mother. Evelina, coming of age and prone to falling hopelessly in love, finds herself drawn to the old tales discussed between her Grandfather Mooshum and her Great Uncle Shamengwa, who also have a propensity for hopeless loves. As she matures and navigates life with her mixed blood, learning the truth about the murders is also the path to understanding herself.

The revelations come about in the pattern of a woven basket: over and under, back and forth, around and around. Truth, legend, tall tales and spiritual lore all contribute to the collective memory of a small town and its nearby reservation. The realities of modern life branch back through time, through love and through the inevitable conflicts of different cultures coming together.

I discussed The Plague of Doves with one of my reading groups and was among only three readers who liked it. The lack of linear structure in the story gave the remaining readers a hard time. But as any child grows and gradually pieces together her family history, the process is not linear. As peoples with varying traditions and world views learn how to live together, truth is a fluid thing.

Erdrich brings a large dose of wisdom to this book, teaching us lessons that I suspect she has struggled to learn. Despite the violence and heartbreak, there is a distinct lack of bitterness or recrimination in the telling and much insight in the resolution of its central mystery.

(The Plague of Doves is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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