4.5 stars overall / 4.5 stars audio narration
The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.
Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina’s grandfather, is a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.
This book took me three separate tries to get going – I would get half to 3/4 through the first cd and restart, because even though I was listening closely, I felt that I was not absorbing all of the pertinent details adequately. This was not because the book lacked interest, or plot, or mystery, but rather because it has a massive scope, and I found it necessary to revisit the beginning more than once to ensure that I thoroughly understood the foundation on which Erdrich was building her story. By the end, I was singularly impressed with what she presented.
Erdrich covers several generations, a lot of geography, and a huge amount of Ojibwe history as she constructs this tale. From the outset, it is clear that Indian culture, customs, traditions, beliefs, etc. ON the reservation are often at odds with not only the whites they interact with, but also the OFF-reservation Indians. There are clashes, improprieties and discriminations, but there are also intermarriages and their subsequent baggage (of a wholly different kind). And there is a dying town, which with the exception of being more Ojibwe than anything else, is not very much unlike any other small town that is dying out as the country changes industrially.
What I found at the end of this read was a deep appreciation of Erdrich’s skill in handling the complexities of this story in a way that (I believe) fairly portrayed the culture clash between the Ojibwe and whites. It was a sensitive story about a specific set of occurrences, and yet the underlying prejudices that fueled the actions and reactions of the characters were certainly universal. What I also found was a desire to revisit this book at some point, as I felt not only sad that I was finished, but that rereading would give me an richer understanding, as well as a deeper enjoyment borne out of that richer understanding.
This is not a run of the mill book by any means, and it is a book that I would highly recommend.