THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE
Hardcover, 224 pages
This is my first Louise Erdrich book. A middle grade chapter book that is well written. Erdrich includes a mini glossary at the end with Ojibawa pronunciation and meaning. I enjoyed having the Ojibawa language being used, rather than just English. The use of the language made the culture come through more when Erdrich describes landscape, ceremonies, and her characters became more complete. There is a section on small pox which may be a little bit harder for a middle grade reader, but Erdrich deals well with the main character's reaction and how the adults around her deal with the experience. I would definite recommend this, especially for parents who are trying to expand their kids' reading into diversity and different cultures.
Future Home of the Living God: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich
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.
This isn’t a terrible book, but I can’t claim to have enjoyed it. Love Medicine is a somewhat awkward merger between novel and short story collection, made up of 17 pieces about two families living on the Ojibwe/Chippewa reservation over the span of about 50 years, from the 1930s to the 1980s. I call it an awkward merger because the stories all feature the same group of characters, but there’s neither the overarching plot you want from a novel nor the neatly encapsulated plots you expect from short stories. Life happens, but it isn’t organized by much plot structure at all.
Still, my dissatisfaction stemmed less from plotting issues and more from the fact that I simply never became invested in these characters. The first chapter was promising enough, but the older generation’s love triangle provided little interest, and something about the characters’ motivations and viewpoints felt off. It certainly doesn’t help that 13 of the 17 stories are told in first person, by 6 different narrators, of both genders, various ages, and from three different generations, and they all sound alike. Which tends to destroy the illusion that we’re hearing from different people, and for that matter, that these are characters at all rather than multiple figments of the same author’s imagination. It’s always baffled me that first-time authors – those least equipped to write multiple narrators successfully – are the most likely to attempt this feat, but I think I’ve hit on the explanation, which is that almost no one, no matter how experienced, can do this well and debut authors are also the least equipped to recognize their limitations.
That said, awhile back I tried to read Erdrich’s most recent novel, LaRose, and bounced off of it, finding the plot diffuse and the characters uninteresting. So it seems most likely that I simply don’t connect with this author’s writing. Fortunately for me, after finishing this I started Anything Is Possible, which provides everything I wanted here – a constellation of linked short stories about beauty and pain in everyday life, with characters and situations that caught and held my attention – albeit featuring white Midwesterners rather than Native Americans.
An endnote about the endnote: removing “The Tomahawk Factory” from the main text because “it interrupted the flow” and then tacking it on to the end just seems to muddle the book’s ending. I read it second-to-last, which happily turns out to be its chronological placement, once I realized it was meant to be part of this book and not a preview for another one.
so kommt diese Geschichte daher von Fidelis Waldvogel, seiner Frau Eva und Delphine Watzka. Es ist keine klassische Liebesgeschichte, kein schnöder Roman, es ist das Leben. Und das wird hier so sensibel beschrieben, dass es mir die Tränen in die Augen getrieben hat bis ich laut aufschluchzen musste.
Eine so liebevoll geschriebene Geschichte über Liebe, Freundschaft, Fliehen und ein zu Hause finden, sich annähern, entfremden und verzeihen, die einem gleich das Herz wärmt, obwohl nicht nur herzerwärmende Dinge passieren. Tatsächlich geschehen viele grausame Dinge. Doch erzählt werden die voller Hingabe und Zärtlichkeit, dass ich ganz verliebt bin in diese zauberhafte Erzählung, die sich ganz unaufgeregt und leise an einen schmiegt.