Love Medicine

by Louise Erdrich

Paperback, 1989




Bantam (1989)


The lives and destinies of the Kashpaws and the Lamartines intertwine on and around a North Dakota Indian reservation from 1934 to 1984, in an authentic tale of survival, tenacity, tradition, injustice, and love.


½ (703 ratings; 3.9)

Media reviews

''Love Medicine'' is an engrossing book. With this impressive debut Louise Erdrich enters the company of America's better novelists, and I'm certain readers will want to see more from this imaginative and accomplished young writer
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There are at least a dozen of the many vividly drawn people in this first novel who will not leave the mind once they are let in. Their power comes from Louise Erdrich's mastery of words. Nobody really talks the way they do, but the language of each convinces you you have heard them speaking all
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your life, and that illusion draws you quickly into their world, a place of poor shacks stuck amid the wrecks of old cars and other junk made beautiful in Miss Erdrich's evocation.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Less a traditional novel than a series of vignettes in the lives of several generations of Native Americans living on a Chippewa reservation on the high plains. In some ways, this is a fine book. This one is Erdrich's first novel, but you wouldn't know it: her prose is confident, polished, and
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decidedly literary and her characters are well formed. She comes up with more a couple of memorable characters -- my personal favorite was dreamy, lost Lipsha Morrisey -- though I felt that some of her older female characters occasionally drifted toward cliché. The book's also got a strong sense of place -- Erdrich's good at capturing the harshness and emptiness of the badlands. Erdrich never lets the reader forget that these characters all share a hard life in a hard place.

And that's the problem that I've got with "Love Medicine," really. I don't usually understand it when readers complain that a book is "too depressing:" sadness is where literature comes from, after all. But this one tested my patience. Erdrich presents modern Native American life as a nearly continuous series of tragedies, a continual downward slide. I don't know if this was her intention, but it bogs the book down considerably. Erdrich's style may be impressive, but I sometimes felt that its decidedly deliberate pacing and its literary diction didn't do her subject matter any favors. It's well-composed and well-constructed, but somehow inert. "Love Medicine" sometimes feels like the novelistic equivalent of a black-on-black painting. Too much. Despite its obvious strengths, I struggled to finish this one.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
Nowhere on my edition of the book is it called a novel except in a blurb from a review. These are loosely connected stories that had a feeling of oral story-telling to them, passed down from one to another, with sharply drawn but not fully-developed characters and implications one only realizes
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later on. Erdrich is unsentimental but always compassionate toward life on the Indian reservation and its inhabitants. It's hard and brutal and there is not much joy or hope to be found. I did not, however, find this a bleak read, due in large part to Erdrich's eye for the absurd and her empathetic portrayal of these men and women. Some of the stories made me laugh and some brought tears to my eyes, but throughout, I reveled in the powerful prose.
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LibraryThing member bragan
This is one of those works that sits just on the dividing line between "novel" and "collection of linked short stories." It gives us a series of glimpses into the complicated lives of members of several related families on a Chippewa Indian reservation, their stories intricately intertwined and
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told in multiple perspectives that skip back and forth through time. Which can be a little hard to keep track of, especially towards the beginning when you're still learning who all the characters are, but it turns out to be very much worth the effort.

This was Erdrich's first novel, and I do think maybe it shows, just a little bit. The only other novels of hers I've read are The Plague of Doves and Shadow Tag, but I remember finding both of those to be effortlessly beautiful reads that pulled me along compulsively. Whereas this one, in places, perhaps feels like it's working a little harder at to achieve its effect. But when the writing is at its best, wow is it good.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
I'm pretty sure I read this about twenty years ago. No matter. I remembered bits of it but really hardy any. It is such a rich book, I could probably just start reading it again and enjoy it and get more out of it. This is real life. Yeah here it is wearing Chippewa garb but really this is how
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families are. This book kind of hugs the near shore of magical realism. To see the magic in the ordinary, this is sacred. It encourages me to find the sacred in my all too ordinary humdrum life. What more could I ask?!
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich is the author's first novel, published in 1984. It was revised and expanded in 1993 but I read the 1984 edition. The story is told in a storytelling manner and each chapter is told by a different person. The book regins with June Morrisey in June of 1981. She is
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walking back to the reservation in a spring snowstorm. She is the figure that holds the remaining novel together. The love triangle of Lulu, Marie and Nector is another theme as well as homecoming. Other themes include tricksters, abandonment, connection to the land, search for identity, self knowledge and survival. The story is set in North Dakota at the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation but also Fargo and Minneapolis but mostly the reservation. I read this book because the author was born in Little Falls, Minnesota. Wikipedia mentions that this book is written in the tradition of Faulkner. Having just finished Absalom, Absalom!, I can see that. Both stories are about family, the land and the myths that make up family stories. Love Medicine was awarded the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award. The title of the book specifically deals with a section where a grandson tries to fix his grandfather's love for his grandmother and cease chasing after Lulu. There are some great quotes about love;"You see I thought love got easier over the years so it didn't hurt so bad when it hurt, or feel so good when it felt good.""Them geese, they mate for life". I really liked this because Marie and Nector met each other with Nector caring a pair of geese that he had killed. I also really appreciated the author's story of death. I liked this quote, ""It struck me how strong and reliable grief was, and death. Until the end of time, death would be out rock." and "Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart's position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after--lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you know you won't ever come by such a bargain again." I also really liked the scene at the end of the chapter with Lipsha digging the dandelion's "the spiked leaves full of bitter mother's milk. A buried root. A nuisance people dig up and throw in the sun to wither. A globe of frail seeds that's indestructible." I enjoyed this book and really appreciated this author's ability to write about the Native American experience. She took all the stereotypes and put them in this story in such away that you enjoyed meeting them as the story evolved. I enjoyed the themes of homecoming and death. It's not a very big book but it is packed full.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Erdrich's prose is memorable and poetic, and the novel here is built from fascinating character studies and voices that weave together into a subtle narrative of families and individuals searching for a way of belonging and for personal understood identity. With all of the characters here, the book
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takes concentration and steady reading to give its full impact, but the journey is worth the time and focus. Sweet, memorable, and poetically powerful---it's an exploration word for word that captures you from page 1.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Love Medicine is the first novel by Louise Erdrich, published in 1984 and later revised and republished both in 1993 and 2009. (This review is based on the 1993 edition.) The first chapter of the book is an award-winning short story that Erdrich wrote shortly after graduating with her M.F.A., and
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the characters introduced within those pages are expanded on throughout the book. Love Medicine switches back and forth between first and third person narrative, jumps in time chronologically, and changes which character is narrating frequently. These changes are not only from chapter to chapter but sometimes within chapters as well, so this is not strictly a ploy to force the plot forward or simply a way to get multiple perspectives on a single event (although sometimes this latter one does end up being the case) but an intentional choice of writing style. This mode of storytelling, along with how these characters end up appearing in some of her later books as well, draws frequent parallels between Erdrich's writing and that of William Faulkner. This style has also lead many people to refer to this novel as a book of short stories instead or as a series of interrelated vignettes.

In terms of plot, there is not much of a linear one to Love Medicine; it is the story of two family clans on a Native American reservation in North Dakota and the various ways their lives intersect. Some of these intersectional ties are due to marriage and love affairs, others through familial relations (sometimes with illegitimate children not knowing who their biological parent(s) are), and still others through working situations. This edition helpful includes a family tree, which I found myself constantly referring to, although some of the relationships were too complex to even show up on this simplified depiction. But the plot (or lack of it) is not what made this book so compelling. Erdrich's writing style is lyrically beautiful; when I read that she started her writing career in poetry, I realized that the element I couldn't identify in her prose immediately was that it was poetic. Even when writing about bleak events and dysfunctional families, Erdrich managed to do so in a way that was aesthetically pleasing. This alone would have been enough to make this book a good read certainly worthy of its being on the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Still, the book has yet another thing to recommend it: its characters. I'll admit that the first 20 or 30 pages were a bit of a struggle while I tried to grasp a hold on to who all the characters were and how they related to one another. Even though I still had to refer to the family tree at times after that, by the second or third chapter I was wholly sucked into the book and reveling in its characterizations. While there's not really anyone in this book that I would want to be friends with per se, Love Medicine provides a plethora of varied and interesting characters. The characters cover a wide berth of different demographics including both sexes, various ages, and degrees of multiracial diversity. There wasn't a single character in here, even those only tangentially related to main story, who didn't feel realistic. Complex and sometimes competing motivations moved these characters forward in their lives more so than standard plot points.

While I was happy with the ending presented here, the characters were so compelling that I would love to read about them again. Technically, Love Medicine is considered the first in a series of books; however, it seems that Erdrich's books are not strictly serialized in terms of the story simply progressing forward chronologically in another book. After doing some research to find out which book came next and finding very different results (including whether or not particular titles were even part of the series or not, or what the series' title is), the conclusion I was drawing is that Erdrich writes new novels that sometimes feature characters from a previous tale but the books are not necessarily interdependent. I could be wrong, but that seems to be what the case is. At any rate, I will definitely be reading some of her other books in the near future after enjoying this one so much.
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LibraryThing member g0ldenboy
This is the third of six large works assigned to my college's Postmodern American Literature course. Charles Baudelaire instructed writers to "Always be a poet, even in prose." That Erdrich is. In fact, most writers would be lost if simply given the barebone material here, which is a medley of
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wistful Native Americans on a reservation. Nevertheless, most readers will desire more action and plot.
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LibraryThing member exlibrismcp
This novel focuses on the multi-linear and multi-generational links between two Native American families - the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. The book's structure is unique in that it does not have a typical plot structure. It evolved from several short stories that were initially loosely related.
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Erdrich then added other chapters to flesh out the full novel. Despite the absence of a plot, the book still reads with a nice easy flow, at no point does it appear choppy or disjointed. Each chapter contains scenes loaded with metaphorical significance. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
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LibraryThing member brentwoodschool
This is a powerful multigenerational saga of two extended families that live on and around a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. The family members are full of despair and hope as they cope with insensitive government policies, poverty, alcoholism, and love.
LibraryThing member writestuff
The Kashpaw family lives on a North Dakota reservation and its branches are convoluted and multiple. They are connected loosely to the Nanapush family through the illegitimate son of June Morrisey (adopted daughter of the Kashpaws) and Gerry Nanapush. Love Medicine follows the lives of the multiple
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characters of these two families, weaving backward and forward through time to establish their connections to each other.

The novel opens with June Kashpaw’s final one night stand. As the character who connects both families through her illicit affair with Gerry Nanapush (resulting in the birth of their son Lipsha), it seems appropriate that Erdrich begins her story with June. But Love Medicine is really about the two matriarchs of the converging families: Marie Kashpaw and Lulu Nanapush Lamartine. These women – strong, sharply spoken, and brave – are the characters around whom the novel spins. Marie comes from a poor and unstable home and turns initially to the Catholic Church…only to discover that evil can live anywhere.

Lulu moves from man to man, seeking the love she never really had, and raises eight boys from different fathers. Both women fall in love with the same man: Nector Kashpaw. Yet, although this is at its heart a family saga, Erdrich reveals herself as a brilliant writer by drawing on deeper themes of love, loss, religion and belief, and the dark underpinnings of reservation life and politics.

Writing from multiple viewpoints across many years, Erdrich gradually builds the core of her novel and connects the two families. Her reflections on faith and religion weave in and out of the narrative.

Erdrich does not sugar-coat the problems found on reservations – alcoholism, sexual promiscuity and domestic violence. Yet despite these difficult subjects, she finds room for empathy for her characters. Impacted by tragedy, her characters often reveal their resiliency to despair.

Erdrich’s writing is often dreamlike and poetic. Her prose resonates with compassion, anger and a deep understanding of the challenges Native Americans have faced. I was carried along by Erdrich’s honest writing into a world I had little knowledge of before. Despite the multiple characters, I had no trouble following their lives and connections (although Erdrich does provide a helpful family tree at the beginning of the novel).

Love Medicine is a novel about the interconnectedness of family, personal despair and triumph, and the truths upon which our lives are built. Brilliant, powerful and beautifully wrought…this is a novel I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member LindaKayS
I admire how Erdrich presents a multitude of characters and their different stories without allowing the book as a whole to fall apart. Without a sense of cohesiveness, it might be seen more as a collection of short stories. Thematically, Native American spirituality both divides and bonds the
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generations in the stories. sprawling novel that encompasses sixty years and three generations of displaced Native Americans. The POV changes from first to third person among nine different Chippewa tribal members as they tell their story in eighteen chapters, beginning in 1981, going back to 1934, and then forward to1985. Each character tells their own version of their story, so the reader is often given different viewpoints of the same event. The multiple POV and varied stories make it an expansive and somewhat more challenging novel, but Erdrich controls the characters and their stories amazingly well.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
When I started reading this book, I was struck by the similarities to Sherman Alexie's THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN, which I had read recently; both books are on a list of recommended literary fiction I'd been working through and are the first published prose book by each author.
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Both are more a linked set of short stories than a novel, mostly told in first person from multiple viewpoints, set in an Indian Reservation--in the case of LOVE MEDICINE a Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. Both books often feel bleak, filled with tales of suicides, alcoholism, and grinding poverty. (Erdrich's book was published about a decade earlier than Alexie's, and I wonder if she was an inspiration or at least an influence on his book).

I wasn't exactly happy at first to find those similarities--Alexie's book didn't impress me, and I thought that maybe I just preferred a more traditionally structured novel or it's just I'm not much of a fan of social realism. And well, both those things probably are true, but I wound up a lot more impressed with Erdrich--the tales, and her characters, felt much richer and packed a lot more of an emotional impact and in the end felt more than the sum of their parts; Erdrich felt the more reliable narrator. The prose is so gorgeous--often passages make you slow down to savor them and you feel this is one book you'll have to keep and return to read again.

Her book did take me a while to get into. At first I found the first chapter, with its plethora of related characters, confusing. When I completed that chapter, I was tempted to go back and create a cheat sheet and then saw the beginning of the book handily provided a genealogical chart.

What helped wasn't so much that though, but just reading--you eventually get to know the characters and how they all interrelate and for me those characters make the novel. Right after reading LOVE MEDICINE, I saw a mention of the work in a book on literature talk about how Lipsha Morrissey was the closest thing to a protagonist in the work, but for me the true center and the most unforgettable characters were the two matriarchs, Marie Lazarre Kashpaw and Lulu Nanapush Lamartine, around whom many of the other characters revolve in some way. Both are such strong-willed characters, you wouldn't dare feel sorry for either, and I think that's a lot of what kept LOVE MEDICINE from winding up feeling depressing, despite a lot of tragedy in this book. I was especially surprised to love Lulu in the end--believe me, for plenty of reasons, she's unlikely to strike most readers as sympathetic for much of the book. In the end, I was sorry to leave these characters.

To round out the comparison, although I found Alexie interesting for his window into into life in the modern American Indian reservation, his book didn't leave me wanting to read more of him. That's definitely not the case with Louise Erdrich.
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LibraryThing member louisville
The first novel in Louise Erdrich's Native American series, Love Medicine tells the story of two families, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. Written in Erdrich's uniquely poetic, powerful style, it is a multi-generational portrait of strong men and women caught in an unforgettable drama of anger,
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desire, and the healing power that is love medicine.
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LibraryThing member soniaandree
This book has been a very enjoyable read and the multitude of points of views, based on each character, builds up a chronological sense of family unity. Through their eyes, each chapter develops a character and, to a certain extent, the novel comes full circle in terms of narrative. The opening
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chapter starts, surprisingly, with an end, i.e. the life of one of the key figure in the novel. Just this chapter and I was already hooked. The writing is precise, full of imagery, quasi-poetical at times, but always full of sensibility, never letting an omniscient narrator interfering with the narrative. There are no completely good or completely bad characters, they are just people in a small community, living as best as they can through life. I recommend this book to anyone wanting something else than the usual, with an interest in native Americans and/or postcolonial issues.
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LibraryThing member emily2fish
Gritty and dark with moments of sublime redemption and hope...this is not exactly a "curl up with a good story" novel but Erdich makes her characters so real you can smell them, (whether you want to or not). Completely character-driven and read almost like a series of short stories or character
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vignettes connected by two family trees and the numerous liaisons that join them. Certain characters are anchors that tie the book together which makes sense since the book is a dual family history, but with all of the context and understory normally missing from a family history.
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LibraryThing member tinkettleinn
The stories in Love Medicine are about bridging gaps. At the end of the novel, Lipsha is able to bridge the greatest gap of all--he is able to fill in the gaps of his identity by finding his mother. June is a haunting presence throughout the novel because she seems to be the real bridge that
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connects the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. Lipsha is a combination of both. He is better off than the other male members of his family, and he realizes, in the end, that his mother June truly love him because she allowed Grandma Kashpaw to raise him.

Once Lipsha discovers that June really loved him, a road is constructed that connects dry and wet land. He associates June with a deep, dark river because she seems to wander the earth, as though she drowned. The river's current is a driving force that carries June's memory and used to cover the land.
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LibraryThing member walkonmyearth
I couldn't put down 'Love Medicine' once I started, and it was a very slow start. Perhaps my hesitancy was knowing that I would be stepping into some darkness that would mesh with my own reality of the past or present. I wasn't sure I wanted that. Without dissecting personalities, Erdrich presents
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characters, many of whom are people I have known. As a cook will use just a tad of salt to bring out natural flavors, so Erdrich does with her characters and situations.
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LibraryThing member Doozer
I didn't quite get it the first time I read it years ago, but on second reading this year I loved it. A little bit of knowledge about Ojibwa history, culture, and tradition helps.
LibraryThing member JosephJ
A brilliant book steeped in the Native American oral tradition. Erdrich’s Love Medicine is as much about the mysticism and suffering that are intertwined in the Native American culture as it is about the importance of family. Certainly the families in Love Medicine may seem unconventional,
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possibly even savage, to many living outside of the North Dakota reservation where the story is set. They are families nonetheless, and families with deep roots.

It is also a book steeped in love—both physical and emotional. Hearts are broken, marriages betrayed, wounds that seemed healed reopen years later, but ultimately love, in its many forms, prevails—either lifting characters up or drowning them completely.
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
Reading a book by Louise Erdrich is like sitting down to enjoy a finely-crafted meal. I'm not talking about comfort food like your mom makes; I'm talking about that insanely expensive meal that you can only afford because it's a special occasion and you want to create a memory with this meal.

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is the second book I've read by Erdrich (I read Tracks before this one), and the marveling at the craftsmanship of her writing continued all the way through it. She mixes fantastical elements with some of the most gut-punching, matter-of-fact observations by characters who just cannot catch a break.

Tracks introduces several characters that appear in Love Medicine, and then Love Medicine takes over and tells what happens to those characters. The major issues of land rights being taken away, language being lost, and religion shifting to something new and foreign are all addressed. In fact, Lipsha Morrisey addresses the issue with this heart-breaking passage:

"Our Gods aren't perfect, is what I'm saying, but at least they come around. They'll do a favor if you ask them right. You don't have ot yell. But you do have to know, like I said, how to ask in the right way. That makes problems, because to ask proper was an art that was lost to the Chippewas once the Catholics gained ground. Even now, I have to wonder if Higher Power turned it back, if we got to yell, or if we just don't speak its language... Was there any sense on relying on a God whose ears was stopped? Just like the government? (p. 236-237)"

Can you imagine struggling with something like this? Wondering if the God of the Catholics, the one who you have been told is the all-powerful, cannot understand you or worse... simply doesn't care?

And how did the government treat the Chippewas?

"They gave you worthless land to start with and then they chopped it out from under your feet. They took your kids away and stuffed the English language in their mouth. They sent your brother to hell (War), they shipped him back fried. They sold you booze for furs and then told you not to drink (p.326)."

Talk about a punch in the gut. None of these things were foreign to me - at this point I've seen them talked about in several different novels by different authors. But concentrated in that small amount of space... it's horrifying.

While I recommend Louise Erdrich's books whole-heartedly, I want to warn those who pick one up. They will pull at your heart-strings, you will struggle to get through the story. There will be tears, but only if you take the time to invest yourself and get to what she is talking about between the lines. Overall, it's an experience that everyone should have... but one you will only have if you give yourself over to it.
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LibraryThing member DK_Atkinson
I need to read more of Erdich's novels. She has families who appear and reappear in many of them. Intergenerational relationships are interesting to watch as they play out.
LibraryThing member Julie_Brock
First book in a long time that I've been motivated to RE-read. It is transfixing. I get attached to the voice used in one chapter, understand how the generations and other families interweave, and then Erdrich moves on to the next chapter with a different voice and different branch of interwoven
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relationships and families. I hate to leave one chapter for the next, then am delighted by that voice and hate to move on from there. Family trees would be helpful at the beginning - even a genealogist cannot keep up. :) There is a lot of internal dialogue and great introspection and reflection on joys and losses - a lot of bittersweet, unfinished business. Makes me want to visit Erdrich's wonderful Native American bookstore in Minneapolis!
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LibraryThing member mahallett
louise is not my favourite writer. too much magic. but i have these old audio books on tape. so old that michael dorris is still pc.
a couple of stories are ok.
LibraryThing member marysargent
This is her first novel. She's a wonderful writer: character, description, dialogue, plot. This has many characters and relationships over the years and hard for me to keep track of. When I finished it, I wanted to start over to figure out who was who.


Original publication date



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