I am rereading this book by Louise Erdrich. I picked it up a couple of years ago. I’ve always liked Louise Erdrich because she writes about Native Americans and reservation life, and I grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana.
This story is different from her other stories, or at least different from how I remember them. I would say that in this book, unlike her others, her style is magical realism. I could be wrong in thinking this is the first time she’s written in this style–it makes me want to go back and read or reread her other books.
The story is about a priest who goes to the reservation called Little No Horse in 1912 and whose life is shaped by the people he meets as much as he tries to shape their lives and bring them into the Catholic church. We learn early, though, that the priest is actually a woman who came across the “real” priest’s body after a flood in which she almost drowned. A vision leads her to assume the priest’s identity and she goes to the reservation. Erdrich speaks beautifully and eloquently of the dichotomy the woman feels living as a man and how when she is a priest she is not man or woman, but both and neither at the same time. It’s a beautiful and, for me, provoking examination of how our spirits transcend our bodies.
The other story lines in the book are as compelling, stories of the people on the reservation during illness, famine, hardship and joys, births, deaths, marriages and the tragedy of losing the land that is everything to the tribe.
This is a difficult book to read in some ways, but it’s beautifully written and has layers and layers of meaning.
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