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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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.