A New York Times Notable Book of 2017 Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event. The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant. Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby's origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe. A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
The plot is so strong, the story so well told, that I set aside all my doubts about the plausibility of it all.
The book is a journal, a series of letters by mother-to-be Cedar Songmaker to her unborn child, describing her attempts to evade capture, to find her own birth family, to find a place of refuge, and to make sense of what is happening.
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Handmaid's Tale is a story that doesn't really take too much time to show how things got to where they were. In Future Home of the Living God, we get to see from Cedar's perspective how things started to shift into chaos and what led to the corralling of all fertile women. I just wish this had been done better.
Part 1 of the book is really tedious to get through. The story, told entirely from Cedar's perspective, is in the form of a diary/letter that she is writing for her unborn child. But she just prattles on and on about things that I don't necessarily care about. I did appreciate reading about her inner turmoil about her present situation, as well as the glimpses of the unease that was settling in around the country as people tried to get a handle on this devolution situation. But I wish there had been more of that. I wanted more instances of devolving, more of how everyone was researching this phenomenon, and the rationale behind herding pregnant women in and taking their babies. There was this time when Cedar decides to go visit her birth parents, which was interesting ... but it felt very disconnected with the things happening around her.
Part 2 of the book was more interesting because there was a lot more action, and a lot less philosophizing. Again, the focus was on the pregnancy rather than the environmental changes but at least it was fast-paced and filled with fervor and action. This was the dystopian thriller aspect that I had been promised and I enjoyed it immensely.
But then came Part 3, and it was more of the same of Part 1. There's very little that actually happens and just more talking and musing. Gone was the survival mode that I had enjoyed from Part 2. It was very difficult for me to finish this last part, because I just couldn't care. The ending of the novel was also extremely disappointing for me, because nothing was resolved. In a sense, this ending would probably have been a great segue or introduction into how things are set up in The Handmaid's Tale. But I don't think that was what the author had in mind.
There were 2 main reasons that I was really upset about this story. One is that I really didn't like Cedar. She is an aloof character, making it hard to connect with her. Even though more than half of the book is her talking about her thoughts and opinions, I never actually felt like I understood her. One minute, she is talking about religion and God and DNA, and then she's going on about how she must survive and her survival skills flit in, and then they just disappear and she goes back to philosophizing. None of it was useful, none of it was insightful. It just bogged the story down. The second thing I didn't like is that the different parts did not come together to create a cohesive story. Part 1 and 3 should be grouped as one thing because of their whole theme of literary fiction, and Part 2 should be the actual dystopian story.
Overall, I found this to be a vague story about a situation where we somehow end up reversing evolution, and for some reason this means that all fertile women must be rounded up and made to give birth. There was too much of a literary component to this story that didn't add anything substantial, and too little uniqueness to the dystopian story. It was disappointing. I'm giving it a 1.5/5 stars, and that's only because Part 2 had some adventure to it.
Told in epistolary form, Future Home of the Living God is the story of one woman navigating the rapidly-devolving world as best she can while maintaining the safety of her unborn child. No one knows the reasons for the reverse evolution, how it originated, how far back in time organisms will go, or how to combat it. Thus, as the number of homo sapiens babies born to pregnant mothers dwindles, society begins to retract around those women who literally hold the future of the human species in their bodies. The problem is that this is done in true dystopian fashion – misinformation or a total lack of information, abuses of power, threats, incarceration, bribery, and more all done in the name of Christian values and the promise of a better life and protection for women of child-bearing age.
Cedar is writing all of this to her unborn child as a way to establish a record of the fall of civilization and a way to clarify her own thoughts during this tumultuous time. Because it is Cedar’s story, the focus is on those things that interest her. Since she expresses very little desire to understand what and why is happening, we don’t learn much about what is happening beyond her sphere of influence. Instead, we watch as she works out who her family is and what they mean to her. We see her meet her biological mother for the first time. We are alongside her as she sets about making a nest with her baby’s father. We are with her as she confronts hard truths about her adoptive parents. We are by her side as she waits in the hospital and wonders what is going to happen to her baby. This allows you to connect to Cedar on an intimate level as she comes to grips with what is happening to her, to her child, to her family, and to the world at large.
What follows is a somewhat spooky, definitely surreal, and surprisingly suspenseful story as Cedar races against the clock to keep her unborn child from the government’s clutches. As with any good dystopian novel, she makes new friends, finds surprising allies, and discovers who is willing to ignore their values when times get tough. We also discover what it means to be a family as Cedar’s predicament brings together biological and adoptive parents.
In such an unusual story, Ms. Erdrich’s writing skill comes to the fore. Her ability to set the tone with one careful sentence means readers never forget what is happening outside of Cedar’s world. The more forceful reminders of the ongoing changes are downright chilling when viewed in the context of what they portend for the world. Ms. Erdrich is able to bridge the gap from present and familiar to future and foreign through her beautiful but efficient writing.
Most of Future Home of the Living God is bleak. Cedar has no doubts that non-homo sapiens babies born in the hospitals or government-run facilities do not last long. Nor does she have doubts as to her future prospects should she be caught. The last scene in particular is rough. Yet, you finish the novel with a feeling of hope. It is a marvel of storytelling that you end the story feeling hopeful that humanity and all of nature will find a way to adapt and survive the new norm, that people will continue to resist injustice and persecution, and that compromise is possible. You take this feeling with you as you reenter the real world with its doom-and-gloom headlines filled with hate and denial. More importantly, you keep this feeling long after you turn that last page. Because of this, and so much more, Future Home of the Living God not only lives up to Ms. Erdrich’s reputation and surpasses it.
This is a splendid story blending science fiction with Native American life with the science fiction being ever present but in the back ground of Cedar's story told in journal form as she writes her feelings to her unborn child.
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Although encouraged, I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
It is Cedar's story we follow, sometimes through letters written to her unborn child, as she attempts to navigate this new world order. A world, where using the basics of The Patriot Act, the new government is able to spy on anyone at anytime, using drones and newly developed technology. A person called Mother, appears on television screens, now that nothing else is made nor shown. It is through Cedar that we meet the few other characters in this story.
A strange world, but as Erdrich tells it, an all together believable one. Her descriptions are a marvel, beautiful and strange at the same time. The combining of the elements, cultural, political, and personal, amazingly wrought. This is Erdrich, stretching her wings, or less poetically stated, her writing skills and it made for entertaining reading. Maybe, also a warning, but not without some infused hope. Marvelous.
Cedar was adopted. She is of a long line of Mary Potts, but does not, obviously, go by that name. She is 26 when she drives up to meet her birth mother for the first time. She wants history. Hereditary, genetic, familial history. Life on the reservation is typical. Her mother, almost Mary Potts senior, and grandmother, actual Mary Potts senior kitten foot meeting her. Replacement Mary Potts (younger sister) attitudes in with a goth-Lolita persona. Then she meets stepfather, Eddy. A bi-polar intellectual with a PhD who is writing a book on why not to commit suicide. It’s almost surreal, were I not have read so many Sherman Alexie books. All in all, it is a nice meeting.
Once back home, with talk of apocalypse on the horizon, Cedar stocks up on necessities and adds cigarettes & booze to trade. When she goes for her first ultrasound, reality sets in. A kindly, attending doctor allows her to escape, warning her to tell no one she is pregnant and to hide.
News stations are being blocked or run by the government. Robotic broadcasts tell nothing, but give warnings as “people are out in the streets, demonstrating against not knowing what they should be demonstrating about.” There are mumblings of reverse creationism. That time has reached its end and will now roll backwards. No one is quite sure to what. After so many pages, it’s getting annoying. Cedar “knows” something is wrong with her baby, but how? One sonogram that showed nothing? She writes of her despair, yet divulges nothing. Nor does the author. Were this not our book club selection, I’d stop right here, page 68, and leave them all to muse over the peril no one knows exists. But I read on.
The child’s father, Phil, arrives with a warning to Cedar that they, the powers that be, are looking for her. She has not been able to reach her parents and a strange woman keeps appearing on her computer. Communications break down and public abductions of pregnant women are taking place. What newscasts there are, call for all pregnancies to admit themselves. For safety. But against what? Phil protects her as best he.
Animals begin to mutate. Supplies dwindle. People form communities. No one knows who is safe anymore.
Then they find her. She is alone when taken. They place her in a room with another pregnant woman who wasn’t alone, but irreversibly is now. And then she too is gone. Irreversibly. Happy pills and facade-faced nurses attend and restrict. But there are resisters. Her old mailman slips mail into her robe, an outlaw nurse works to free, and both sets of parents plot.
A harrowing series of events follow, such that I will not spoil your experiencing them. Cedar continues her journal to her unborn child. Always writing, a virtual escape.
I admit, this book scares me. Not so much the sci-fi aspect, but everything else. Every. Thing. Else.
Best line is from Cedar’s postman, Hiro, who was pivotal in her safety, when asked “How come you’ve looked after me?” he simply replies “You were on my route.”
Most endearing line is from Cedar to her unborn child. “I am your home
Unfortunately, it didn't quite deliver (no pun intended!) for me. The novel seems somewhat disjointed in terms of plot and style, and we never really get more than a glimpse of the disaster that has befallen the world at large. This wouldn't matter so much if Cedar was a more compelling protagonist, but I was a little frustrated with her musings on seemingly random subjects while the planet is apparently going to hell in a handcart.
I was compelled enough to read to the end, especially during the relatively action-packed middle section, and parts of the text are really beautifully written. However, I think this is one for those who just can't get enough of dystopian fiction. Although I really like this type of premise, I need more of a fast-moving (and original) plot to keep me properly gripped.
The main character, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, was adopted. When her mother, Sera Songmaker, gives her a letter from Mary Potts, a Native American Indian, she discovers that Mary Potts is her birth mother. Who is her father, she wonders? Suddenly, she decides to visit her Ojibwe family. She is pregnant, and she wants to find out if there are any genetic issues that she should be aware of that might affect her baby. This idea about genetic issues is the premise of the novel, since there are current rumors that all life on the planet is undergoing drastic changes. Plants, animals, birds, humans, etc., are all mutating. Some are unable to reproduce, some are becoming extinct. Some are changing into other species, mutations of their former selves as their DNA changes. The environment has altered. Global warming is afoot. Seasonal temperatures are abnormal. The theory is that evolution is reversing. Was it G-d’s doing or a collapse of nature and the natural order of things?
Soon there is martial law. Pregnant women become fugitives as they become commodities. A system of bartering returns. Survival is of utmost importance, and some will do anything to live. Religion is pitted against science as explanations are sought. Food is being hoarded, weapons are being stocked; law and order disappears. An underground organization develops in order to help those seeking to escape to a safer place. Some were brave, some were cowards.
Perhaps the author’s motive was noble. Perhaps the author wanted to simply emphasize the need to protect the environment, the need for us to treat each other with more respect regardless of our differences, to be less judgmental. Perhaps she wanted to point out that in a crisis, race, religion, and sex take on different roles and levels of importance. In that effort to point out the failure of society, she developed a premise that never became very plausible for me. My imagination simply could not suspend disbelief to the extent needed to appreciate this novel. It simply seemed a little silly, irrational and disjointed, never making much sense. The main character seemed to morph between a scientific genius and a spoiled brat.
Granted, the novel is science fiction with a little bit of mysticism and Indian lore thrown in for good measure, but the book never seemed to present one idea that came to a plausible conclusion. Was the world ending, or beginning anew? Would it be a better world, eventually, or just a world filled with pockets of life, life that exhibited the worst and best of us, depending on where we managed to gain a place that offered sanctuary? Would women become chattel? Would race be important? Would the food chain begin again? Would Native American Indians be restored to their rightful position? Would we all sink to the lowest level of humanity and compromise our souls in order to survive? Would murder, theft, lying and other forms of heinous behavior be the order of the day? We are left wondering about how the world would ultimately deal with the changes. Perhaps it would have been better if we had been left with the idea that there was a better way to proceed in order to prevent such a dystopian way of life.
The author seemed to be channeling Margaret Atwood, P. D. James, Emily St. John, and perhaps a bit of the draft dodging days of the 1960’s when Vietnam War objectors (draft dodgers), escaped to Canada with the help of an underground organization, plus a host of other others. I think she should stick to being the original Louise Erdric, writing about indigenous people, because that is where she excels.
While I may have detected a very liberal bias in the writings of this author, in the past, which was somewhat off putting for me since I do not like to be forcibly indoctrinated by the books I read (something that is getting harder and harder to avoid), I always enjoyed her books. Therefore, I kept reading this one even when I grew more and more disenchanted with the narrative. Erdrich has created a novel in which she points out many of the problems she sees in society. Many progressive and politically correct topics are explored and used to justify her themes. Some examples are racism, sexuality, global warming, faith, religion, big government, and the general idea of freedom, but the idea of Evolution reversing itself never quite coalesced into a coherent idea.
The author chose to narrate her book on the audio, as many do, but I find that when an author reads the book, the narration is never as good as when a professional reads it. Erdrich was too close to the story, and I felt, as a result, she over emoted to such an extent that it seemed cloying, at times. It also felt like water would boil faster than her reading pace. It was evident that she passionately believed in the ideas she tried to put forth, but she never quite convinced me of them.
The best part of the book was the diary kept by Cedar about the scientific description of the expected development of the fetus in her womb. The progress updates were interesting. In addition, I lived in Minnesota for a time and was aware of the geographic area. That made some parts of the book more engaging for me.
Cedar Hawk Songmaker was raised by white liberal parents in Minneapolis. She always knew she was adopted and her parents, Glen and Sera, tried to give her culturally appropriate experiences. She is now pregnant and she has decided to find her birth mother to see if there are any health issues that might affect the child. Sera had given her a letter written by her birth mother, an Ojibway woman from northern Minnesota called Mary Potts. Mary is married, lives on a reserve and has another daughter called Mary Potts. Cedar decides to go visit her birth mother having called first. Cedar doesn't really learn anything concrete but she does form bonds not just with her birth mother but with the whole family. The reserve is in the midst of creating a shrine to Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk woman who has been canonized, because some people on the reserve have seen her. This connects with Cedar because she converted to Catholicism and has made a study of the church's saints.
In the larger world trouble is brewing because of a dangerous new disease that causes genes to revert to their predecessors. Martial law is imposed and pregnant women are being rounded up. Cedar goes into hiding having stocked up on food and other goods that may be used to barter if the market system fails. The father of her child helps out finding food and resources for her. Cedar never got around to telling her adoptive parents that she was pregnant but she did tell the Potts family. She gets word from them that Glen and Sera have left Minneapolis and are safe. As her pregnancy continues Cedar's life becomes more constrained and endangered. What will she do when it comes time to give birth? No spoilers here: read the book.
Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the book’s narrator, is four months pregnant when Future Home of the Living God begins, and her narration takes the form of a written diary in which she directly addresses her future child just in case she does not survive the baby’s birth. When pregnant women start to be arrested on the streets and whisked away to secret facilities, there is good reason to believe that this is precisely what will happen to Cedar and that her child may only ever know her from that diary. Then when authorities begin actively searching for pregnant women – and when society begins to crumble all around her – Cedar knows that she has to do more than stay out of sight. People around her know that she is pregnant and they know where she lives.
Cedar, however, has something that most people do not have: two supportive families, an adoptive one and a tribal one - and both of those families are willing to risk their lives in order to protect Cedar and her unborn baby. As a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, everyone involved wonders how it will all end. Is it only a matter of time before the conspirators will be discovered and themselves arrested or will they all be able to blend back into the general population in just a few months? When Cedar is captured and taken to a special hospital, it appears that she and her baby are not destined for a happy ending.
Future Home of the Living God, published in 2017, is a reflection of the times in which we live, a period during which women feel that their reproductive choices are being threatened in ways that may or may not be exaggerated, and that of course makes the novel even more terrifying than it otherwise would have been. For good reason, this one will remind readers of both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and PD James’s The Children of Men. In my estimation it is every bit as powerful a novel as either of those, and it should not be missed.
(I recommend the audio version of the book read by the author. She is the perfect reader for this one.)
The book is a journal written to the narrator's unborn child. The narrator, Cedar, is a Native American woman who was adopted and raised by white parents. As the book begins, she receives a letter from her birth mom, so she meets her birth family and tries to make sense of the relationship between her birth parents and her adoptive family. Meanwhile, an apocalypse is unfolding: evolution has started to go backwards, and the world is in chaos. The people in power start to round up pregnant women to.... do something... with their throwback babies.
And here's the main problem with the book: this apocalypse is potentially really interesting, but it's never explained to the reader's satisfaction (this reader, anyway). Evolution going backwards is weird - suddenly dinosaur-things are hatching from bird eggs - but this seems like it would be a slow change that would take generations, so why are grocery stores and gas stations suddenly empty and why has the government collapsed? Cedar is too caught up in her personal crises to ever explain the apocalypse, and the whole thing just doesn't make any sense. On top of that, there is the mysterious Mother, an apparition who appears on the screens of turned-off computers to issue dictatorial threats, and that also is never explained, doesn't make sense, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of the story.
This apocalypse seems like it's going to provide some interesting opportunities for Cedar, a Catholic, to come to profound conclusions about the Incarnation and the nature of humanity, but that never materializes either. The vague, never-fully-explained apocalypse would be excusable if it led to some interesting conclusions, but instead, the story just peters out.