Monday, October 3, 2016

One Book One Community Author: Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is Marquette’s eleventh One Book One Community read. The 2016 program began September 25 and runs through November 15. The Round House won the National Book Award for fiction. The novel is narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe who lives with his parents on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. His mother is brutally attacked yet refuses to speak about what happened, either to the police or to her husband, a tribal judge. Joe must cope with his mother’s slow mental and physical recovery, and his own rage and helplessness. At issue are the jurisdiction of the Round House, the place where the attack happened; and the hazardous intersections of tribal and non-tribal law. Although his father works for justice through the law, Joe doubts those efforts will lead to a good solution. Joe and his friends set out to find answers on their own.

Copies of The Round House can be checked out of your library, inter-loaned from other libraries or purchased at local bookstores.

OBOC activities include public book discussions at PWPL on Oct 4 and at NMU’s Olson Library on November 2. On October 19, the Marquette Regional History Center will host a panel discussion titled, “Women, Violence and Revenge.” Their gallery, featuring a Native American diorama, will be open to the public with a free-will donation during this event. The film Smoke Signals will be shown at NMU’s Whitman Commons on November 15.  Through October 9, NMU’s Olson Library is hosting a traveling exhibit called “Native Treaties-Shared Rights.” NMU’s DeVos Art Museum is also hosting an exhibit, Elizabeth Doxtater’s “The Art of Peace”, with 100 corn-husk dolls through December 9. Visit and click on the One Book One Community link, visit, or call 226-4309 for more information.

Louise Erdrich is a favorite author for many in the Marquette community, including me. She has written 15 novels, several collections of poetry and short stories, children’s books, and two works of non-fiction. She has garnered several prestigious awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In The Master Butchers Singing Club, Fidelis Waldvogel, returns home after serving as a German sniper during World War I. He marries Eva, his best friend’s pregnant widow, and immigrates to Argus, North Dakota. In his suitcase he carries sausages and a set of butcher knives. Fidelis organizes the town’s best singers into a singing club. In their butcher shop, Eva meets Delphine who stars as the center of her own story within the book. She comes to love Fidelis and his and Eva’s four sons who reach adulthood during World War II. Like her other adult books, this one includes romance, sex, death, humor, grace, and mystery. Erdrich explores the territory where Native-American and European-American cultures meet. She writes of the struggle toward, disappointment in, and life outside the American dream. Her prose, like the best voices in Argus, sings to us and reminds us that “Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another.”

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Erdrich gifts the reader with Father Damien Modeste who has served as a priest on the Little No Horse reservation for more than 50 years. Nearing death, Fr. Damien fears that the discovery that he is really Agnes DeWitt will negate all the work he has done as a priest. He also struggles with how much he should reveal about the life of Sister Leopolda who performed “miracles” at Little No Horse, and whom the church is investigating with an eye toward declaring her a saint. Leopolda’s life is linked to Damien’s secret. Erdrich explores questions of truth, faith, history, and myth as she continues to portray 20th century Native American life in her work. This book is filled with sorrow and loss yet, at times, I laughed so hard, tears streamed down my face.

Grandmother’s Pigeon is Erdrich’s first picture book for children. Reality and fantasy are combined in the story just as in Erdrich’s adult books. A beloved, adventurous Grandmother sails off to Greenland via the scenic route on the back of a “congenial porpoise.”  A year later, the family enters the missing Grandmother’s room and discovers a bird’s nest with three eggs. The eggs tremble and hatch in the warmth of mother’s fingers. The baby birds turn out to be passenger pigeons, extinct for a hundred years. Scientists and the media invade the family’s life until one night, the two children carry out a deed that infuriates some and pleases others including someone for whom they all long. Jim LaMarche’s lovely illustrations add a further touch of magic and depth to the story.

The Birchbark House is the first in a series of five (so far) novels for children that Erdrich has written and illustrated detailing Ojibwa life in the mid-1800s. In this series, Erdrich retraces her family history. Omakayas is a young child in 1847. She and her family live on the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker in Lake Superior. Their lives follow the ways of those who preceded them. They build birchbark houses in the summer, harvest rice in the fall, move to cedar log houses before it snows, and welcome spring at maple-sugar camp. Omakayas has the gift of telling dreams and foretells of the dangers white people will bring and the changes that will occur as whites move into their territory. She visualizes the new life the tribe will build further west. The series shifts to 1866 and the lives of her 8-year-old twin sons in the 4th and 5th books. All of the stories are filled with Ojibwa tales, traditions, and customs as the tribe moves from a woodland culture to life on the plains.  The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year, Chickadee, and Makoons continue this series. I read the 2nd book one New Year’s eve, listening to firecrackers and hoping only that the new year would be as beautiful, profound, and full of life as this story.

--Cathy Sullivan Seblonka, Collection Development/Reference Librarian

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