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The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
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The Plague of Doves (2008)

by Louise Erdrich

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1,516704,872 (3.75)309
  1. 30
    Paradise by Toni Morrison (tangentialine)
    tangentialine: I love how the structure is similar, but also how in both books there is attention to some key characters and a focus on racial tension and the heritage of the past. And the language is breathtakingly gorgeous in both books.
  2. 00
    The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute (CurrerBell)
  3. 00
    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: If you want to read more about the characters and events portrayed in The Round House, read The Plague of Doves, which shares characters and events with the later novel.
  4. 00
    Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie (charl08)
  5. 00
    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (charl08)
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Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Erdrich crafts a marvelous, complex story that spans generations and interweaves characters living on the Ojibwa reservation and the adjacent dying town of Pluto, North Dakota. She uses multiple first person narrators who interconnect over time and though events that touch them all. The story begins with a desperate attempt by people of the region to chase off a plague of doves that is devouring the crops. Mooshum, a young Indian, encounters Junesee who is the daughter of a white man and Indian woman. They run off and eventually live with a tough cow girl on her ranch. They marry and return to the reservation where Mooshum and acquaintances come across a homestead where the entire family, except the baby, have been just murdered. The group flees, fearing that they will be accused of the murders. Someone informs on them and a posse catches them and lynches them, all but Mooshum who is spared by one of the posse. (It is later revealed that Mooshum probably informed on the whereabouts of the witnesses.) The baby is adopted by a couple. A young man from a neighboring farm who had left at the time of the murder was long thought to have committed the crime. He was killed in WWI so the truth of his involvement was never entirely certain.

The time shifts forward to the 1960's and the voice of Evelina, who is Mooshum's granddaughter.
Evelina has school girl crush on Corwin Peace, whose great uncle Cuthbert was among the Indians lynched. Mooshum's half-brother Shamengwa is a virtuoso violinist. Despite Evelina's mother's intense Catholicism, the two brothers are sharply anti-religious and their debates with Father Cassidy are hilarious. Evelina's father, Edward, is a science teacher whose rabid avocation is stamp collecting; the collections will have a place in the story later.

Judge Anton Bazil Coutts is a tribal judge whose grandfather was a founder of the town. He was among a party of speculators who staked out land for the town in the 1880's in the hope of realizing profit if or when the development occurred. Their expedition into the plains was brutally difficult and Coutts narrowly escaped starvation. The plot eventually became the town of Pluto, which the Indians know was taken from their land. Anton is a lonely man who began a long-term affair with the town's female doctor, a woman considerably older than him. She will figure in the final chapter of the book.

John Wildstrand, whose grandfather was one of the lynchers, is married to Neve, who through her family owns the town bank. John is having an affair with Maggie Peace and impregnates her.
The child of this union is Corwin Peace. Because of the pregnancy, Maggie's brother, Billy, confronts John and together they concoct a plot kidnap Neve so that ransom money can be taken from the bank and given to the support of Maggie. The plan succeeds, but Billy, fearing exposure, departs by enlisting the in army.

Marn Wolde has grown up on a farm with parents who hated each other and a crazy uncle, Warren. Marn meets Billy who, after his time in the army, has fallen in with a traveling preacher. Billy becomes a preacher on his own and through his charismatic style has attracted a cult of followers. Marn turns to snake handling and suffers with abuse meted out Billy, eventually killing him via injection of snake venom.

Corwin, now a young man, got caught stealing Shemengwa's violin, hoping to fence it. As punishment, Judge Coutts sentences Corwin to taking lessons from Shemengwa. He develops a passion for the instrument and become quite skilled at it.

Evelina grows up and enters college. She spends a semester working at the state hospital where she meets Warren Wolde who's been committed as insane. Evelina starts a romantic relationship with a female patient that causes her to question her sexuality. Corwin comes to visit her and brings his violin. While playing in the day room for the patients, Warren suddenly collapses and dies. There is a connection revealed later about the playing and his death.

Judge Coutts continues his affair with Dr. Lochren for many years, even after she married, Ted, a local real estate developer. Desperate for funds to pay for his mother's care in a nursing home, Coutts sells his family home to Ted, knowing that he'll rip it down to build cheap apartments. While witnessing the demolition, Ted rips into a colony of bees that Coutts knows is there and dies.

Dr. Lochren and Neve Harp are among the town's longest residents and have seen the decay of the town over their years there. They have determined to write the history of the town and its people. Neve reveals to Lochren that her uncle had an obsession with stamp collecting and accumulated a valuable collection, some of which, after his suicide, ended up with Evelina's father who had planned on using it for his retirement, but lost it after he crashed his car.

After Warren Wolde died so suddenly, Dr. Lochren received a large sum of cash, the bills being folder in a peculiar way known to be Warren's method. We understand that Lochren was the baby spared from the murder. She realizes that it was Warren who killed her family and that a song heard by Warren on the family's Victrola at the time was the same tune played by Corwin in the hospital, the shock of which induced Warren's heart attack.

The interweaving of these narratives and the interconnections of the characters over time and through relationships makes this a fascinating story. There is at first a sense that the narratives are only loosely connected, that the reappearance of characters is only marginal to the narrators' stories. As the stories interweave, one realizes that the people are deeply connected with one another on many levels. Across generations and blood and non-blood relationships the characters form almost a tapestry that depicts the people, the land and the history of the region. The land is also a major character of the book. The place and meaning of the land, to the Indians and the whites, is a motif that permeates their history and personal ties. The horrendous murder and its aftermath of frontier justice will cast a dark influence on all that follows over decades. ( )
  stevesmits | Apr 24, 2018 |
I feel like Louise Erdrich should be Canadian. Her stories about indigenous peoples could just as easily take place north of the border as south. I’m sure she would be welcomed with open arms in Canada but she seems content to live in Minneapolis where she operates a bookstore (some place I would love to explore).
This book concerns people in a fictitious North Dakota town called Pluto and the reservation nearby. Although the town has fallen on hard times it was once a place of promise. Some of the native people who came to this place were Metis who had supported Louis Riel but fled Canada after the Batoche battle failed. Some of the white people had counted upon the railroad running nearby and bought up the townsite. As might be expected there were tensions between the natives and the whites. When a farming family was slaughtered, except for a young baby girl, the whites assumed the natives had committed the crime. Three natives were lynched by the whites and that crime reverberated through the generations to come.
There are some wonderful characters in this book. Seraph Milk (Mooshum as he is called for most of the book) is an old man living with one of his daughters in town. He loves his little nips and he loves telling tales. His granddaughter Evelina has grown up listening to his stories and from what he has told her and what she has picked up from others she manages to piece together much of the area’s history. Seraph’s brother, Shamengwa, is a talented violin player. The story of how he acquired his violin is makes reading this book worthwhile all by itself.
The stories weave back and forth in time and from one teller to another. It’s like what I imagine sitting around a fire in a Plains Indian teepee must have been like. Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Apr 2, 2018 |
The Plague of Doves tells the interconnected stories of several white and Native American families in a small town. In the early 20th century, a group of white people lynched a few Native Americans because they suspected them of murder. Three generations later, the tensions and feuds created by that event still play out in the community. The book shifts points of view to explore the fallout among both whites and natives.

Erdrich's writing is rich and skillful. She is very good at creating vivid characters, but there are so many characters in the story that I sometimes got them confused - it would have been really helpful to have a family tree or a chart of how the characters are connected.

The subject matter can be grim at times, particularly in the chapters about a charismatic Christian cult. The book is still engaging and enjoyable nonetheless. ( )
  Gwendydd | Feb 12, 2018 |
This book is a masterpiece of storytelling. I don't recommend it for young readers at all. It's a history of a small town told by members of the town over time. The history is as layered and rich as the storytellers tales, and everyone is connected somehow. In that way, it is rich. I had to go back in several spots and make sure I caught the connections, who was related to whom and how they had affected that family. I didn't mind re-reading, though, because the writing is so very lovely. There are some very VERY funny parts, especially the parts where the two uncles bait the local priest. There are heart-breaking parts, and parts that are bizarre. But the thing about it is...they are just crazy enough to be true. When Erdrich writes, she makes you trust her. She makes her reader believe she is telling the truth, like she has lived what is written. What a great storyteller. ( )
  MsKathleen | Jan 29, 2018 |
In 1911, a horrific murder of a farm family occurs in a small North Dakota town. Rather than actually find justice, a posse of vigilantes scapegoat a number of Native Americans and lynch them. The Plague of Doves follows the lives of the generations that follow, hearing from descendants of the murdered family, those responsible for the murder, those responsible for the lynching, and those who were lynched.

I've read some of Erdrich's books before and thought she was a wonderful writer, so I was excited for this book. It's a hard book to explain -- the plot is difficult to sum up as the throughline sometimes gets murky and as the multiple narrators go backwards and forwards in time and discuss stories within stories. I was not surprised to learn that Erdrich wrote and published several sections as short stories first, and that seems to explain some of the choppiness of the book. For instance, Marn seemed to be plopped into the book out of nowhere; eventually her connections to the rest of story came through, but not until after her narration was over. As a result, I found her section to be the weakest in the book as I was reading it.

That being said, however, Erdrich did write some marvelous anecdotes, created memorable characters (some of which I wish we got to hear more about), and has an absolute beautiful writing style in terms of sentence structure and painting pictures with words. For these reasons, I mostly enjoyed reading the book, but there seemed to be very little payout in terms of any type of climax to the central plotline (i.e, the murders and lynchings). Following the family connections between the characters is a difficult task and I gave up on that early on (having read other Erdrich's works, I knew this would be tricky and not particularly necessary), although at the end I did make myself a messy chart of the family lines and interconnectedness and that was sort of fun to see how many things did come together ultimately.

This book is apparently part of a loose trilogy with the follow-up books being The Round House and LaRose. Not knowing that, I had actually previously read The Round House, and it was interesting to have some backstory now on the characters in that book.

I'm not sure that I'd rush out to recommend this book, especially considering that there are better Erdrich's books out there (in my opinion) and that most of the other members in my book club didn't really care for this book. I would say it's not for everyone, but fans of Erdrich should probably check it out. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Nov 17, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Writing in prose that combines the magical sleight of hand of Gabriel García Márquez with the earthy, American rhythms of Faulkner, Ms. Erdrich traces the connections between these characters and their many friends and relatives with sympathy, humor and the unsentimental ardor of a writer who sees that the tragedy and comedy in her people’s lives are ineluctably commingled. Whereas some of her recent novels, like “Four Souls” (2004), have suffered from predictability and contrivance, her storytelling here is supple and assured, easily navigating the wavering line between a recognizable, psychological world and the more arcane world of legend and fable. . . .
 
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The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail, eyes wild, bawling.
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Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood.
But of course the entire reservation is rife with conflicting passions. We can't seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts through laws and religious dictus seems bound instead to excite transgression.
What men call adventures usually consist of the stoical endurance of appalling daily misery.
What doesn't happen in the heat of things? Someone has seized the moment to act on their own biases. That's it. Or history. Sometimes it is history.
I wrote down as much of Mooshum's story as I could remember, and then the relatives of everyone I knew--parents, grandparents, way on back in time. I traced the blood history of the murders through my classmates and friends until I could draw out elaborate spider webs of lines and intersecting circles. I drew in pencil. There were a few people, one of them being Corwin Peace, whose chart was so complicated that I erased parts of it until I wore right through the paper. Still, I could not erase the questions underneath, and Mooshum was no help.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060515120, Hardcover)

Louise Erdrich's mesmerizing new novel, her first in almost three years, centers on a compelling mystery. The unsolved murder of a farm family haunts the small, white, off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The vengeance exacted for this crime and the subsequent distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation and shape the passions of both communities for the next generation. The descendants of Ojibwe and white intermarry, their lives intertwine; only the youngest generation, of mixed blood, remains unaware of the role the past continues to play in their lives.

Evelina Harp is a witty, ambitious young girl, part Ojibwe, part white, who is prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a seductive storyteller, a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. Nobody understands the weight of historical injustice better than Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, a thoughtful mixed blood who witnesses the lives of those who appear before him, and whose own love life reflects the entire history of the territory. In distinct and winning voices, Erdrich's narrators unravel the stories of different generations and families in this corner of North Dakota. Bound by love, torn by history, the two communities' collective stories finally come together in a wrenching truth revealed in the novel's final pages.

The Plague of Doves is one of the major achievements of Louise Erdrich's considerable oeuvre, a quintessentially American story and the most complex and original of her books.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:32 -0400)

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The unsolved murder of a farm family haunts the small, white, off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The vengeance exacted for this crime and the subsequent distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation and shape the passions of both communities for the next generation.… (more)

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