Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

Paperback, 2013




Harper Perennial (2013), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages


The unsolved murder of a farm family haunts the small, white, off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The vengeance exacted for this crime and the subsequent distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation and shape the passions of both communities for the next generation.

Media reviews

Writing in prose that combines the magical sleight of hand of Gabriel García Márquez with the earthy, American rhythms of Faulkner, Ms. Erdrich traces the connections between these characters and their many friends and relatives with sympathy, humor and the unsentimental ardor of a writer who
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sees that the tragedy and comedy in her people’s lives are ineluctably commingled. Whereas some of her recent novels, like “Four Souls” (2004), have suffered from predictability and contrivance, her storytelling here is supple and assured, easily navigating the wavering line between a recognizable, psychological world and the more arcane world of legend and fable. . . .
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User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
How does the past affect the present? How long is its reach? Where is the line between past and present? Louise Erdrich explores these questions and more in The Plague of Doves. The small town of Pluto, North Dakota, and the reservation community it borders, seems to have moved on long ago from the
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unsolved murders of a farming family. Yet that event and its immediate aftermath has shaped later generations in ways that are either unrealized or unacknowledged. The multiple narrators of the story are no more than acquaintances, yet their stories gradually reveal the history that binds them all together.

Erdrich understands her characters, and the voice of each narrator rings true almost to the end. I had a sense that one narrator, the child and then young woman Evelina, is at least somewhat autobiographical, and this was reinforced by the end material. In the book, Evelina leaves for college in 1972; in the biographical information at the end of the book, the author mentions going to Dartmouth in 1972.

I was disappointed with the end of the novel. Each prior section of the novel contained surprises, so it was a let-down when I was able to predict what was revealed in the last section of the novel. Also, I didn't care for the explicit sexual references in the book. Although there are only a few passages with graphic content, it was enough to mar my full enjoyment of the book.

A Plague of Doves would make a good book club read. It touches on several themes that would be great topics for discussion, such as family, religion, guilt and innocence, sin and absolution, cultural identity, and race. It would be interesting to pair this book with To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that explores some of the same themes in a different cultural setting.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
This semi-autobiographical, semi-historical novel is set in the fictional town of Pluto, North Dakota, which sits on the edge of a Native American reservation and is dying a slow death due to its isolation and lack of well paying jobs. Pluto contains a blend of German-Americans descended from 19th
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and 20th century settlers, Ojibwe (Chippewa) people, and the mixed race offspring of both groups. An underlying tension is present between the older members of the white and Native American residents, as the Ojibwe hold a longstanding resentment over the land that was taken from them by the settlers, and stories about Pluto's history and its former occupants hover nearby like ever present ghosts. The town's families have lived there for generations, and disagreements from decades past lie just beneath the surface and are not easily forgotten or forgiven.

Evelina is a teenage girl of mixed descent, with a German-American father and an Ojibwe mother, who lives with her parents, younger brother and grandfather Mooshum, a fantastic storyteller whose tales have at least some basis in truth. She attends the local Catholic school, and her agreeable and obedient nature belies her rebeliousness and lustful nature. One day when her father is away and her mother is conversing with her sister, Mooshum tells Evelina and her brother about a tragic event that took place in 1911 that still haunts the town nearly a century later. A family of white farmers were slaughtered in their home, save for a baby who managed to survive thanks to a group of four Ojibwe who rescued the child. A group of prominent men in Pluto learn that the young men were the first ones to discover the massacre, and they accuse them of the murders. They are taken into custody by the town's sheriff, but the townsmen overcome him and take the four into their own hands. They are all strung up to be hung for their crimes, despite their protests of innocence. Three of them are lynched, while a fourth manages to escape. Later the townspeople realize that the Ojibwe youth were not the culprits, but the identity of the actual killer is never discovered.

The novel consists of a series of chapters, in which past and current residents of Pluto provide first person accounts that cover the century from the period just prior to the massacre and subsequent lynching to the current day. In the process, the history of the town and its people are laid down like pieces of a complicated puzzle, although some of the pieces remain missing at its conclusion.

The Plague of Doves is based in part on the 1897 massacre of the Spicer family in North Dakota, and the subsequent lynching of several innocent Ojibwe, and the character of Evelina is heavily but not entirely based on Louise Erdrich's childhood, family and education. Some of its chapters were initially published in The New Yorker, and perhaps as a result this novel for this reader felt disjointed and lacked a smooth flow from one segment to the next. The middle third was the weakest segment by far, but overall this was a very good novel, filled with elements of magic realism and interesting characters, and I look forward to reading more of Erdrich's work in the near future.
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LibraryThing member bragan
I think this book is more than a little difficult to describe. But, essentially, it's about the lives of various people living on an Indian reservation in North Dakota, and in a nearby small town. It's about a shocking murder that took place many decades before and the massive injustice that
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followed, in which three innocent Indian men were lynched. It's about the complex, tangled consequences of that act, reverberating down through the generations as the families of the victims and the perpetrators intertwine. But mostly it's about the people that were shaped by those events, directly or indirectly, and about their individual stories. It's beautifully written, in a slow, intricate, meandering sort of way, and I found it quite compelling, the sort of novel that lingers with you for a little while after you turn the final page.
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LibraryThing member eas7788
Parts of the book are amazing and top-rate Erdrich. Other parts are not. "Shamengawa," "The Plague of Doves," the chapter about the group surviving in the wilderness, and pretty much anything with Mooshum are excellent -- vivid, string characters, strong plot. But the chapter at the psychiatric
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hospital and the sections on the cult didn't work for me. Florid rather than vivid. Predictable rather than riveting. Still, the last chapters are beautiful and pull a lot of it together,
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LibraryThing member William345
Extraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice has its idiosyncrasies and slightly different vocabulary. The action is centered around the unsolved murder of a family of white farmers in the early
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twentieth century. Unfortunately, that evil was discovered at the time by a group of traveling Indian merchants. Only a tiny babe survived in her crib. The Indians are then summarily lynched by white vigilantes. They had nothing to do with it, of course. Erdrich then shows us how for the next 75 years or so that violent history affects both whites and Indians -- and those of mixed blood like Erdrich herself -- living in Pluto, North Dakota, and the nearby reservation. The non-chronological structure works beautifully. Erdrich writes with a precision about feelings that reminds me of the crucial distinction John Gardner famously made between "sentiment" and "sentimentality." (See his The Art of Fiction) Erdrich's ability to make vivid any given scene seems akin to that of Philip Roth at his best. I make this comparison just to give you a sense of the level of mastery she is operating on here. It's plain she's studied her models well. Extraordinary piece. This is my first Erdrich so I look forward to reading more of her. Her new novel Round House, purportedly the second volume of a planned trilogy that begins with Plague of Doves, received the 2012 National Book Award.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
In 1911, five members of a family – parents, a teenage girl, and an eight- and a four-year-old boy – were murdered. In the heat of things, a group of men ran down a party of Indians and what occurred was a shameful piece of what was called at the time “rough justice.” – from The Plague of
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Doves, page 297 -

An unsolved murder from the early part of the twentieth century is the center of Louise Erdrich’s stunning novel The Plague of Doves. Set in the white town of Pluto, on the edge of a reservation in North Dakota, the book introduces multiple characters with blood ties to each other. Many of the characters are of mixed blood: Ojibwe and white. There is the young Evelina Harp and her brother Joseph who grow up on the reservation capturing lizards and listening to the exaggerated stories of their grandfather and his brother. There is Judge Antone Bazil Coutts whose affair with a married woman shadows his life. There is Corwin Peace, a handsome boy with a penchant for illegal activities and a gift for music. Evelina’s grandfather, Mooshum, holds the stories of the past and resists the pull of the Catholic Church; his brother, Shamengwa, is his comedic sidekick whose fiddle playing captivates the community.

Louise Erdrich’s novel unfolds over decades and through the multiple narratives of her complex characters, linking their lives and gradually revealing the mystery of who murdered the family in 1911. Over the course of the story, Erdrich explores forbidden love, family ties and dark secrets. As with all her novels, there is a deep sense of Native American culture, the importance of land, and the convoluted and sorrowful history of native people.

I saw that the loss of their land was lodged inside of them forever. This loss would enter me, too. Over time, I came to know that the sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character – my old uncle through his passionate discipline, my mother through strict kindness and cleanly order. As for my grandfather he used the patient art of ridicule. - from The Plague of Doves, page 84 -

Erdrich’s writing is lyrical and evokes vibrant imagery. She is a patient writer, one who carefully lays out the story and builds her characters. Spending time in her novels is like taking a journey to another place and time. I have mentioned in other reviews of Erdrich’s work that she is the consummate storyteller – and in The Plague of Doves this is once again apparent. Erdrich’s Pulitzer-nominated novel opens with the murder, then branches off into what at first seems like disparate stories…character studies, if you will. Eventually, Erdrich connects all these threads and returns to the question of who committed the murder of a family all those years before. It is a thrilling, “aha” moment in the novel.

Despite the dark focus of the novel, Erdrich’s sardonic sense of humor which is informed with irony, provides the reader with some lightness. Some of the funniest parts of the book are those which involve the local priest’s visit to Evelina’s grandfather and great uncle who throw back shots of whiskey and tell outrageous stories which inflame the priest.

The Plague of Doves is the third novel I have read by this amazing author. It is a challenging read in many ways with its interwoven stories, and movement back and forth in time. But as with all Erdrich novels, it is intensely satisfying. Patient readers who love symbolism and complexity in their books, will find themselves consumed by The Plague of Doves which has been nominated for such prestigious prizes as the 2009 Pulitzer, the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

This is a literary novel not to be missed. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
The murder of a family and the lynching of three Ojibwe men in response form a defining scar that shapes relationships in the town of Pluto. The writing is outstanding and the characters are memorable. The story is carried by several narrators and the novel feels more like a string of short stories
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than a traditional novel. There is a lot that is very funny, like the visit of a priest to two old brothers who realized, sadly, that they have become too old to sin. A family tree would have been helpful with nicknames attached, too. I also had a difficult time coming up with an overarching theme which, for me, kept this book from greatness. I did, however, find it an engrossing read.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
The violent murder of a family in the North Dakota plains brings out the worst in a small community and affects its residents for generations to come. The murders lead the community to accuse and lynch local Native Americans in an attempt to serve their own brand of wild justice.

The story is told
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from multiple narrators; including Evelina Harp, Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, Doctor Cordelia Lochren and Marn Wolde. It touches on racism, religion, snake charming, kidnapping, murder, bullying, and more. The scope of the novel and the disjointed style make keeping the characters and timeline straight incredibly hard. Evelina hears about many of the events second hand through her grandpa Mooshum’s tales.

Marn Wolde's character was one of the most interesting to me. She provides a unique religious perspective. Most of the characters deal with conflicts between their Native American spirituality and the idea of assimilating into Catholicism. However, Marn's husband, Billy Peace, is a religious fanatic and her view of religion is tainted by Billy’s controlling nature.

My main problem with the novel lies in the structure. It jumps in time and point-of-view and is sometimes hard to follow. I felt like as soon as I had a chance to get to know a character a little bit and be interested in their story, we’d move to a different decade and a different person and I had to start all over again.

BOTTOM LINE: It just wasn’t for me, but I’ve heard loads of praise for it. I would be willing to try another book by Erdrich, but I won’t be recommending this to anyone else.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
A Plague of Doves is a set of connected stories, peopled in the most part by characters of mixed Indian-
White blood. Set on and around a reservation in North Dakota, concerning two communities, one Indian, one White. We read of their differences and their similarities, the various truths of living
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in a small, isolated area where mistrust and suspicion is the norm.

At the heart of this book, outlined at the very beginning, is a story of the terrible murder of a white farming family. The survival of a baby and the immediate outlash at the Indian community. These deeds set the tone and echo on through the generations to come. We eventually learn who the murderer was and who the baby grew up to become.

The stories jump around from person to person, backwards and forwards in time, You would think they would be a bit disjointed but Louise Erdrich is able to use language like an artist uses paint. She develops and enhances the pictures she is showing us. Her marvellous writing makes the whole book cohesive and real. These pages breathe life..

A fully populated, ultimately humane story, A Plague of Doves was a entertaining read about how entwined fates shaped the destiny of Pluto, North Dakota.
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
The Plague of Doves is easily the most beautiful piece of fiction that I've read all year. The unique voices of the narrators bring this haunting story to life, with dynamic characters that leap off the page and into the reader's heart. Using broad, bold strokes, Erdrich paints a vivid picture
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showing the way a single brutal act can echo through the generations, effecting everything and everyone in its path.

The lives of the characters in The Plague of Doves entwine and weave together into a dazzling tapestry. Louise Erdrich is a master storyteller, blending the characters' stories together flawlessly. These parallel vignettes work in concert with one another to form an exquisitely well-written novel. As one might imagine, the story is both complex and grand in scope, but the end product is a remarkably well-developed and cohesive tale.

The Plague of Doves is both lyrically written and delightfully intricate. When you open this book prepare to become lost within its pages, drawn into a different time and place. The sense of history, coupled with mystery and even a bit of humor makes The Plague of Doves a first-rate work of fiction. Erdrich takes her readers on a delicious journey - one that I am eager to repeat. I will definitely be looking for more of her books in the future.
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LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
Argh! This took me so long to read--I nearly abandoned it, but I knew I couldn't because it's LOUISE ERDRICH. There are few authors I will power through to the final page if I'm not hooked. It was such a perplexing read...there were the typical moments of humor and sadness that feel so particular
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to her work, but the episodic nature left me feeling really disoriented throughout most of the book. I had a really difficult time keeping track of the characters and their relationships to one another, to the point that I just didn't care about these people I was learning to care about. Almost til the very end I contemplated scrapping it for another time. And as if she knew how I struggled with this, Erdrich completes the book on SUCH a whiz-bang note that a resounding "OHHHHHHH" echoes through my brain, and I know I will indeed be revisiting this in years to come.

I will just make a note to take notes as I read it the next time.
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LibraryThing member fig2
The grisly murder of a family starts off a chain of events that spans generations. An intricate web of relations and interconnections lead to a shocking final revelation. Deeply layered and complex.
LibraryThing member BillPilgrim
I enjoyed this book alot. I was a bit disappointed when the narrator changed the first time, because I was enjoying the voice of the first narrator, but I overcame that quickly and found myself getting attached to all the characters chosed to speak to the reader.
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
I can't fathom how this book won such accolades. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seemed like a disjointed, sloppily executed patchwork of loosely-related vignettes. I agree with one LT reviewer who complained how tough it was to keep track of characters. I gave up about two-thirds into the book
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-- something I rarely do.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
The stories that make up the small town of Pluto, North Dakota and all the families that live there and their connections to each other.
LibraryThing member marient
Had to skip around in this rather confusing book about an unsolved murder in the off-reservation town of Plato, North Dakota. The Ojibwe tribe of Indians intermarry with the whites and a story revolves around this.
LibraryThing member Sean191
The book was hit and miss. Although it was told through a number of different characters and there was a unifying theme it almost could be read as a collection of short stories. You do of course gain more insight by reading as the author intended.

Some characters had more interesting tales and some
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I felt had little to say. I'm still not exactly sure how I felt about this book, but I would say it's worth a read especially if you already like Erdrich.
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LibraryThing member datwood
Told in multiple voices, the old mystery of a North Dakota murder in a community with both whites and Ojibwe members. This book teases and pries at truths and injustices, leaving both in various states of exposure.
LibraryThing member CasualFriday
This is the story of Pluto, North Dakota, and how generations of its residents are affected by the brutal murder of a family and the lynching of a group of Indians innocent of the crime.

This is my first Erdrich, believe it or not. The book is billed as a novel, but it reads like a short story
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collection with a common theme. Multiple points of view and time shifting, that's to be expected today, but what was different was the different emotional peaks - the individual stories had their own crescendos, and the novel as a whole did not, at least not in my reading of it. Still, most of the stories were absorbing, and the characters felt real. I'll read her again.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
I have to say, right from the start, that I have loved Louise Erdrich's writing since I was first introduced to her in the early 1990's when I read her collaboration with Michael Dorris in "The Crown of Columbus." Having read most of what she's written, I didn't think she could ever out-do her work
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in "Love Medicine," my favorite until now. However, Erdrich's pece de resistance has got to be this novel, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize.

The story is told through the voices of Evelina Harp, Marn Wolde, Judge Antone Bazil Coutts and Dr. Cordelia Lochren. The stories intermingle the lives of the tellers as well as the lives of other memorable characters, all around Pluto, North Dakota and the adjoining Ojibwe reservation, during the early 1900's until about the 1970's.

The story centers on the murder of a farm family (all except for an infant in a crib) that takes place in 1911. To solve the mystery, which she does by book's end, Erdrich relates the stories of the town and reservation residents through fable, myth and resident memories. Almost every chapter could stand alone as a short story, but they are building towards the climax and denoument in the last few pages and I just never saw it coming.

I cannot say enough about this work. The author's use of lyrical language combined with the story she weaves are an incredible combination. We use the word "mesmerizing" so much that its meaning is sometimes trivialized and so, I don't have a word to describe what Erdrich has created here. You just HAVE TO read this book!
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LibraryThing member Bridget770
This is a book I will read again, and I have never said that. It was intense and detailed and a gripping story with incredible characters.

This novel details how a small town's residents' lives are entertwined by a family's murder and the lynching of a group of Native Americans who are innocent of
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the crime.

Loved it.
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LibraryThing member mmignano11
What I enjoyed about this book was the intricate plot that plays out in quite uncomplicated ways. It seems to me that life is quite like that. While Erdrich brings us for a journey through many generations and ties in the initial incident, a brutal murder,her masterful writing controls the way the
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reader experiences each span of time for the character.
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LibraryThing member ChanceMaree

This is one of the rare occasions where I enjoyed the journey without much concern over where the novel was heading. The characters, dialogue, and ambiance, along with skilled writing, made reading more of a pleasant book cuddle which I looked forward to each evening. That said, the surprise final
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wrap up which drew together all the strings was a cherry on the Sunday. This review sounds like literary comfort food, and perhaps it is. Multiple narrators voice their experiences within an Indian reservation, where intercultural mixes of life, love, poverty, religion, and other influences of society are stretched and pounded in ways, sometimes comical, yet universally human.

I held back one star, which is puzzling since I clearly enjoyed and highly recommend the novel. The reason is perhaps the wrapping at the end, which felt like I was going through a bit of a hustle. The pieces fit together, and resolved several puzzles, but somehow, by then, it didn't matter much. So, 4.5 stars, and I look forward to reading more by Louise Erdrich, and giving her a true 5 star rating.
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LibraryThing member pandalibrarian
Louise Erdrich is a master storyteller and if you’ve read any of her other novels, I’m sure you know that. Set in the town of Pluto, North Dakota just outside a reservation The Plague of Doves tells the story of a brutal murder and the lynching that followed. In one sense, this is a mystery as
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the purpose of the narrative is to discover the truth – but it’s not your typical who-done-it story with detectives or private investigators. It's much more complicated than that - in addition to the mystery, the following topics play a part in the narrative in some fashion: stamp collecting, collecting local and oral histories, Catholic schools, evangelical preachers, infidelity, psychiatric institutions, and lesbianism - just to name a few. And they're all important and vital to understanding the story.

The real purpose of this story, I think is the discovery of truth - whether it's in history, in yourself, or in your relationships.

The discovery of truth in this novel is told through the eyes of three narrators – Evelina, Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, and Marne Wold. The main narrator is Evelina and her story begins when she’s about 10 or 11 years old in the 1960's. Her grandfather, Mooshum, tells Evelina and her brother stories of his past (they do this instead of watching TV).

While many of the characters and scenes are funny, Erdrich also writes with depth and feeling about the murders and lynchings. One summer day basketweavers, Asiginak and Holy Track, are out selling their baskets door to door (or farm to farm). Mooshum and his friend Cuthbert Peace are up to no good and are attempting to steal or beg the basketweavers money to buy whiskey and come across a horrifying, brutal murder scene. The four men rescued a baby, milked the desperate cows and decide what to do next. Later, the four men were tracked down by a posse of towns people (who assumed they committed the murders) and hung from an oak tree on Wolde's land - but notice that Mooshum is the one telling the story to his granddaughter Evelina - he survived the lynching. Evelina finds out the truth about that part of the story a few years later - but I'll let you read the book to find out his secret.

There's a lot to take in and keep track of in this excellent book - Family ties and lineage play an important part in this book - as Judge Antone Bazil Coutts says, Nothing that happens - nothing - is not connected by blood.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
With Louise Erdrich as the author of this book, it pretty much goes without saying that the writing is excellent. But I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I'd been able to keep the characters straight. The book jumps from narrator to narrator and generation to generation, and I just didn't
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have a chance. Often the new narrator is someone only distantly connected (by relationship, all the action takes place in the same general area) to a previous narrator, and I kept asking Who is this person? Am I supposed to have any prior knowledge of this person's relationships with anyone I've already met? Although each character and each narrative section was very well done, it became very frustrating to try to read this as a cohesive story.
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