The Painted Drum: A Novel

by Louise Erdrich

Hardcover, 2005

Call number




Harper (2005), Edition: First Edition, 288 pages


When Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. However, she stops dead in her tracks when she finds a rare drum-a powerful yet delicate object, made from a massive moose skin stretched across a hollow of cedar, ornamented with symbols and dressed in beads of brass and red tassels-for without touching the instrument she hears it sound. From Faye's discovery, we trace the drum's passage both backward and forward in time and discover how it changes the lives of those whose paths it crosses.

User reviews

LibraryThing member starmist
Ms. Erdrich is a new author to me. Now that I have been introduced to her eloquence I intend to seek out her other works and immerse myself to her delicate wordcraft. While reading The Painted Drum I often felt that had a single sentence been left out--the whole of the story would have suffered for
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the loss. Each character is carefully drawn. Including the sacred Drum that binds them all together. She seems not to judge her characters, but to allow other characters to voice their opinions. Eventually, some natural consequence of the person’s behavior catches up with them. Even characters whose actions are difficult to read about are made more bearable by the humanity Ms. Erdrich breathes into these otherwise rather distasteful people. Even the most “unremarkable€? person on the reservation is remarkable indeed.

The Painted Drum speaks gently and compassionately of not only the grief of child loss, but of myriad other sorrows. That of parental abandonment, child abuse, poverty, addiction, war, loss of cultural traditions and the guilt that eats away a person from within. And she manages to do so without the least hint of a sermon. She speaks of the spirit world and the guidance some of us find there with deep respect. Thank you Ms. Erdrich; for an exquisite reading experience. I look forward to meeting you in the world of literature again soon.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Faye Travers and her mother, Elsie, have an estate business in New Hampshire, where they are called in to help families value, sell and/or dispose of possessions after the death of a loved one. When in the course of her work Faye comes across an Ojibwe drum, its impact is visceral and she feels
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compelled to find out more about it. They learn the drum was sold many years ago to a man who moved east, and the two women travel to the midwest to return it to its original owner and, hopefully, learn more about its origins.

This novel begins and ends with Faye in New Hampshire, but her story “bookends” that of the drum. And with that story, readers find themselves back in familiar Love Medicine territory. The Painted Drum is considered the final book in that series, and the events leading up to the making of the drum finally reveal more about the mysterious Fleur Pillager. In the present day, the drum calls to someone in a way that ultimately saves their life. And somehow (although this link was less clear to me), Faye comes to terms with a significant loss in her own past, and finds a new path.

I greatly enjoyed returning to Louise Erdrich’s world, and was equally caught up in Faye’s life despite the difference in setting and circumstances. Although I’ve finished the Love Medicine series, this will not be my last Erdrich novel.
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LibraryThing member Carlie
An interesting story, and I have not read another like it; this novel is about many of life's trials and tribulations: love, loss, grief, poverty, and tradition.

It begins with a woman and her mother who both work together in a business selling what is left behind when someone dies. One day, the
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woman comes across an old Native American drum, and she steals it.

The middle of the book is dedicated to the history of the drum, itself a very interesting drama of life and love and loss. Really it is this story that is the heart of the book. It involves a woman that is impregnated by a man other than her husband. When she goes to live with this man, she discovers that he is married to someone else. The two women, after a period of distrust, become co-conspirators, making the man's life awful. The drum was created by the woman's first husband after he awakens from his out bout of grief and disillusion. The drum has many powers, and it later saves a young girl.

The story ends back with the woman who stole the drum after she has returned it to its rightful place with the family who made it. Well-told, intriguing, and enlightening, the story has excellent messages throughout.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
Once again, Erdrich draws the readers into the world of the Anishinaabeg of South Dakota -- into the families of the Pillagers and Nanupush and Shaawano -- this time with the beat of a drum found in the New England house of a descendant of an Indian agent. The finder is Faye Travers -- a Pillager
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gone astray because her grandmother had been sent to an Indian boarding school.

The drum is inhabited by a spirit who gave her life to save her family and has returned to save their descendants. Erdrich moves gracefully between the world of modern neuroses and ancient healing. She describes the connection between nature and those who inhabit it with intensely observant detail:

"Late summer builds to a steamy and forgiving lushness in New Hampshire. There is the crushing scent of heated earth. The audible drinking of taproots of white pines. Maples sucking deep. Best, there is the threatful joy of blackberries, bushes so lush with fruit that to pick them I brave the summer's last ticks and stinging flies....I am a determined picker, lusting after the loaded branches, taking care not to knock off the berries so dense with sweetness they'll let go if the bush is roughly bumped."

THE PAINTED DRUM is another brilliant chapter in the saga of the struggle of Native Americans in the making of America.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This book is essentially three separate stories, all of which are connected by a painted drum. The story begins on the East Coast with Faye Travers, who works with her mother valuing estates. When she finds a painted drum that she is certain was stolen by an Indian agent on the Ojibwe reservation,
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she steals it from the estate and returns it to the reservation. There we learn the story of the drum, as told by Bernard Shaawano. In the final section of the book, the drum plays a role in saving a family who is suffering from poverty and despair. Each of these stories are marked by tragedy and sadness, but the three narrators are strong and resilient.

I loved this book, first and foremost, because of Erdrich's writing. I listened to the book on audio and was mesmerized by her way with words. The stories were also fascinating, drawing me in and keeping me interested. In some ways, they read like short stories. Erdrich creates a rich picture of each life with only a few words and phrases. Like short stories, I often found myself wanting to know more about this aspect of one character or about what happened next. But, I came to appreciate each nugget that Erdrich shared. But perhaps most amazing was the distinctness of each voice. Although the three narrators were not at all similar, the voice of each rang true.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member Dmtcer
One of the best paragraphs I've read in a long time:

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your
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heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.” --Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

That sort of sums up the whole book, I think.
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LibraryThing member Lisa2013
This story is about several generations of Ojibwe Indians and is an interesting psychological study of how parents’ problems can get passed on to their children and their children and their children. I didn’t so much buy the mystical allusions about the drum itself. Some terribly sad and
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horrifying things happen to children in this story. I wanted to love this book as I generally love fiction and non-fiction books about Native Americans. But I had a few problems with the fairy tale style of the book. I would like to read some of Louise Erdrich’s other books about Ojibwe Indians, as I’ve heard many of them are rated higher by many readers.
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LibraryThing member KristiB41
When I finally got around to reading this book, I picked it up thinking "why did I request this book?" This book was wonderful. I was hooked the minute I started reading it.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
I love her writing and I liked this book, just not as much as others of hers I have read. Liked the story of the drum but had a hard time with the first part of the book. Did realize that in the many of her books there are repeating characters, past and present, and I do like that.
LibraryThing member JudyCroome
How does one even begin to review the writing of Louise Erdrich? Her words resonate with ancient mysteries and intricate complexities which draw me into her characters' lives time and time again. This novel is no exception.

In The Painted Drum we follow the story through the eyes of different
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Faye Travers risks her moral rectitude and her career as an Estates agent by stealing an incredible Native American drum. It called to her with a single beat and she was overwhelmed by its mystical powers. Her grandmother was an Ojibwe and Faye takes the drum to return it to her tribe, its rightful owners. But before she hands it over, the drum works its magic on her. In a final healing catharsis, she is drawn to talking with her mother Elsie about the childhood death of her sister Netta. The novel concludes with Faye making life changing decisions.

There is also Bernard Shaawano, the grandson of the Ojibwe maker of the drum. He narrates the history of the drum, and we learn about the tragic life of Bernard's ancestor. He made the drum by following the instructions he received from his young daughter who sacrificed herself to save her mother, Anaquot. She came to her father in visions, and Erdrich’s masterful use of language and rhythm take us into the heart of a man’s grief for a daughter he loved so much he could not love the son who still lived.

The final section of the story relates the story of Ira and her three children. I won’t say more as this is the most powerful section of the book and I don’t want to spoil it. But here the drum comes full circle and, back in its rightful place, it throbs with life and hope.

Erdrich has a way of taking a reader deep into the mysteries that surround us: the soul of wolves; the breath of the trees; and the dead who live on in our dreams. Each word, each sentence, has layers of meaning. No matter how mundane the topic - a man mowing a lawn for his lover – everything is intricately linked and woven together, in much the same way that our individual lives are all part of the same fabric of existence. We are one with each other, Erdrich says, and we are one with all of life.

In The Painted Drum, her characters are flawed, but Erdrich does not judge them. Rather she shows them with unsentimental clarity and a deep understanding for the forces which drive people to do what they do. Erdrich's compassion is coupled with her skill and her wonderful imagination. Once again, she has written another masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member t.peggy
First book I have read by this author. The characters will be with me for a while. 1st chapter was slow, I almost did not continue. The narrator's voice (Anna Fields) was convincing and distinctly different for most of the characters. Nothing expected happens in this book. Told in three sections -
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1st Faye on the East coast, 2nd Bernard on the reservation and 3rd Ira and her daughter Shawnee. What I see featured in these stories is how much damage a parent can inflict on a child and have that child come to terms and surpass the circumstances of childhood. All of the parents are painted as human, with their failings, for most part, told quite non-judgmentally in the author's recording of events. The narration just took me in and flowed around me. Looking forward to reading more.
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LibraryThing member BeachWriter
When a mother-and-daughter team of estate appraisers in New Hampshire unearth a painted drum hidden the closet of a former Indian agent, they find themselves caught up in a saga that stretches generations into the past. In the process, they develop an understanding of their own roots and find the
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honesty to forgive each other and themselves.
Erdrich's special genius is to reveal glimpses of an almost Faulknerian epic tinged with the personal. Her characters rarely make predictable choices and she lifts Native Americans out of the Fenimore Cooper/Hollywood stereotypes and makes them as believable as our own family members.
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LibraryThing member GailMultop
This book is good for those who like tales with a bit of magic in them, but still are grounded in reality. It is magical realism in the minds of the characters. The writing is evocative and touching.
I like this book but was impatient with the plot. A tale about generations of people connected by
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one object should be written so that there is little comfusion about who is related to whom, in my opinion. But a nice, diverting read.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
Louise Erdrich never disappoints her readers. This novel is not as enthralling as Mastre Butchers Singing Club, but it reverberates with the same precise and compelling prose. Traditions have always struck a chord with me, and I found this novel explained the mystical draw that they have
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individuals and families. The painted drum is an exquisite symbol of the pull of the Indian lore that makes me want to read more about it. It has mystical and mythical properties that cannoot be disputed by those who come to life within these pages. I will remember this book and its unique message. I remain a committed Erdrich fan.
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LibraryThing member eargent
I enjoyed this book although I found the various different stories a little confusing. I just got into a set of characters and the story would change. Keeping everyone straight and who belonged to whom was a little difficult
LibraryThing member mbergman
Erdrich tells 3 related stories related to the discovery of an Ojibwe ritual drum in the New England estate of a descendant of an Indian agent & its repratriation to the reservation where it was, before its sale, and becomes, after its return, intimately involved in the lives of the extended
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families that Erdrich has focused on in several of her novels going back to Love Medicine. Erdrich is, as always, a master storyteller but, as in several others in the set of novels, some stories within the novel are more engaging than others.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Beautifully written interlocking tales of little girls and loss all connected by a motif of the same native drum.

I started out by listening to it, but for some reason Anna Field’s reading sounded very unappealing, so I read it myself instead. I loved the style. The language was beautiful, and
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there wasn't too much or too little said with it. The book was quite beautiful in general, and the reason why it didn’t get a five is that Erdrich left me hanging in the middle of her two stories, and took off into completely different times and settings. It took a while each time before I warmed up to the next story.
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LibraryThing member robinamelia
Listened to audio version, beautifully read by Anna Fields. The characters and story were highly engrossing. I just felt that the conclusion needed a bit more development or closure.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Book on CD narrated by Anna Fields.

Faye Travers and her mother run an antiques business in their New Hampshire town. When Faye is asked to appraise an estate, she discovers a that the man who died is descended from an Indian agent who worked on the Ojibwe reservation that is home to
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Faye’s mother’s family. Among the artifacts in the attic is a rare drum. From this point the story moves back and forth, in time and location, as we learn the history – and future – of this particular drum.

This isn’t Erdrich’s best work. It’s slow to start and I wasn’t all that interested in Faye’s current love life. In part two, we have an abrupt jump to the reservation and Bernard Shawano takes up the story, relating how his grandfather came to fashion the drum, and its significance to the family. I found this section, and part three, much more compelling, but I had to wonder what happened to Faye and why Erdrich had just abandoned her storyline. Eventually the reader gets all the pieces of the puzzle and the connection between the storylines becomes clear. Still, I think I would have preferred the book if Erdrich had just focused on the drum’s origin and meaning to the Shawano family, and left Faye out of it.

Anna Fields does a fine job of narrating the audiobook. She sets a good pace and has the skill as a voice artist to differentiate the many characters.
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LibraryThing member Paulagraph
Haven't read a Louise Erdrich novel in some time. Enjoyed this one. Gracefully written.
LibraryThing member maryreinert
The opening chapters center on Faye Travers, a modern woman whose grandmother was Ojibwe, and who with her mother Elsie owns an estate sale business. Faye is hired by the family of a former Indian agent whose estate is filled with Indian artifacts including a decorated drum which Faye
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uncharacteristically steals. Eventually Faye and Elsie decide to return the drum to a family of Ojibwe who Elsie remembers.

The real story then begins to unfold. The drum has touched several generations of Ojibwe since its creation by Bernard's grandfather who made it out of sorrow for the loss of his wife who left him for another man and the resulting death of his daughter. The story doesn't follow a straight line but wanders through the lives of the unfaithful wife, the older son, and most poignantly, the lives of three small children left by their mother in the cold and without food.

Erdrich's writing is not always easy to read; the convoluted story line of the drum is at times difficult to follow because Erdrich is mostly telling it backwards. The drum's effect on the lives of the characters is sometimes a bit of a stretch as Indian lore and beliefs intertwine with the realities of life. The book is the sharpest and most effective during the story of Shawnee, the nine-year old girl who walks her younger sister and brother to safety following a tragic house fire. The book is the least effective during the portions dealing with Faye and her relationship to a lover and her own feelings of inadequacy and guilt. I wish Erdich would concentrate more on stories and characters and less on what I call the "abstract." In short, Erdich is a great story teller and a master at phrasing. It's when she gets into the first-person narrative with rambling thoughts that she sometimes loses me and there is a bit too much of that - therefore a four, but still certainly well worth the effort it takes to read.
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
I must say, Louise Erdrich is a gifted storyteller - a true master of the written word! Her descriptions allow the reader to fall into the pages of the story and become engrossed in the lives of the characters. The Painted Drum gives the reader a lot to think about - mysticism and tribal lore,
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spirituality and the natural world, life and the eventuality of death - you will be haunted by this novel long after you have put it down.

With exquisite descriptions and poetry, Louise Erdrich has captured my imagination again. I will be on the look out for her other novels at the library and bookstore. The Painted Drum is truly inspired and beautiful.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
As often happens with Erdrich's novels, I got to the end but do not consider myself "finished" with the book. As the title tells us, this one is about a ceremonial drum and its history over several generations. When two New England estate liquidators with vague tribal connections return the drum to
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its Anishinaabe family on the reservation, a story emerges full of love, betrayal, revenge and redemption. I almost always go back to re-read earlier sections of Erdrich's novels once I reach the last page (and sometimes sooner), as beginning-middle-end does not really apply to her structure. Not my favorite of her work so far, as the modern framework didn't quite click, but a solid entry in the Love Medicine cycle, and essential in that it reveals Fleur Pillager's origin.
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LibraryThing member Charon07
A kind, compassionate look at the lives of disparate ordinary people and the ways they are connected. Many sad tales of human weakness interwoven into an ultimately redemptive story. The Ojibwe characters and stories were particularly interesting.
LibraryThing member Al-G
An evocative tale of love and loss and grief and finding joy in giving yourself away. Erdrich tells the story in a kind of circular pattern almost, beginning and ending in the same place. She recounts the history of the drum in four parts and in so doing weaves together four separate stories that
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leaves the reader with so many emotions, it takes a while to decompress your feelings when you finished the book. It is well written with an intriguing plot and amazing characters, though it is a bit introspective and less action focused. She explores her characters' motivations and feelings and finds in them all the depth of human failure and frailty that we all share, but she also finds the joy and hope and love that we all seek. It is a wonderful piece of writing and a wonderful exploration of Native American life past and present.
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