I was introduced to this book when studying at University. I read it as a part of the American West module that I studied in my third year. I studied this text in the ‘Native American’ section of the module and really enjoyed reading and studying it in depth! Louise Erdrich is a Native American author so the community that is portrayed throughout the novel is accurately depicted. Erdrich explores the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people, of whom she is related on her Mother’s side. This really makes the story that is told an authentic one that is able to bring to light the reality faced by Native Americans, particularly surrounding modern issues such as a lack of identity.
Erdrich takes her writing style from the author William Faulkner. In this way, the novel uses the points of view of different characters across different points in time. The novel is not set in chronological order and does not strictly follow one single story but rather the story of an entire tribe, conveying the importance of tribal ties to this culture. Although this is the case, I didn’t find the book difficult to follow, but I found that this style of writing really allowed the author to explore such an overlooked and misrepresented culture.
The tribal stories and beliefs that are incorporated throughout have been criticised by other Native American writers for being ‘clan secrets’ that should not be shared outside of tribes. However, by reclaiming these stories in a Native American text, I would say that these are vital in the understanding of the way of life and culture of the Ojibwe people. I would suggest that if you were really interested in Native American culture then it would be useful to research some of the stories that are incorporated in order to completely understand their importance (although this is not necessary to understand the text itself).
Overall, this text is not only interesting due to its complex and exciting plot (which is obviously a necessity for a good piece of fiction!) but also due to its use of a culture that makes it more authentic than a purely ‘made up’ fiction. Although the plot itself is fictional, the tribe in which it is based on is not, and therefore there is a sense of reality that is offered when observing the actions and experiences of characters. I would definitely recommend this book on its plot alone but also as a means of being introduced to Native American fiction and culture if this is something you are interested in or haven’t thought about reading before!