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The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

The Plague of Doves (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Louise Erdrich

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Title:The Plague of Doves
Authors:Louise Erdrich
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Edition: 1 Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
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The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (2008)

Recently added bysumilou2, annbell, JaynaLG, sly.and.wise, ejmam, Jaybib, axel2, urban_lenny, private library
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The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

"Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood." So says Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, one of four narrators of Louise Erdrich's [The Plague of Doves], which is set in and around Pluto, North Dakota, an all-white town on the edge of an Indian reservation,

At the center of this tale, is an episode of "rough justice" following the brutal murders of almost an entire farm family. It happened in the early years of the twentieth century. The only survivor was an infant; her parents, sister, and two brothers were shot-gunned.

The murders were discovered by four Ojibwe Indians, drawn to the bawling of the family's cows, which hadn't been milked for several days and thus were suffering. They milked the cows, feeding the infant in the process. Knowing they would be accused of the crime, they left the baby in her crib and vanished, but one did, in the dead of night, leave a note in the sheriff's mailbox. In short order, the crime was discovered by the whites, and somehow the Indians quickly were rounded up. Seized from the sheriff's custody by the white community's bully-boys, they were lynched.

The story is told decades after the fact to Evelina Harp, another of the narrators, by Mooshum Milk, her grandfather. Mooshum is a full-blooded Ojibwa. As it happens, he was one of the four Indians hanged. The men who lynched them, however, didn't allow him to die.

Evelina is gobsmacked. Her mother, Moosum's daughter, and her father, the son of a local (failed) banker, have heard the story before, indeed they tried to dissuade its recital on this occasion. Evelina explains:

The story Mooshum told us had its repercussions—the first being that I could not look at anyone in quite the same way anymore. I became obsessed with lineage. As I came to the end of my small leopard-print diary…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. He bore interrogation with a vexed wince and silence. I persisted, kept on asking for details, but answered in evasions, to get rid of me. He never spoke with the direct fluidity of that first telling. His medicine bottle, confiscated by our mother, had held whisky. No one knew from what source. She'd never get him to stop. I still loved Mooshum, of course, but with this tale something in my regard of him was disturbed, as if I'd stepped into a clear stream and silt had billowed up around my feet.

As the book progresses, Judge Coutts recounts the mid-winter expedition that sited Pluto, a brutal trek made by his grandfather and four local brothers, the Buckendorfs, led by two Ojibwas, Henri and Lafayette Peace. In time, the younger brother of Henri and Lafayette, Cuthbert Peace would be lynched by Emil Buckendorf (and others). And Sister Mary Anita Buckendorf, Evelina's elementary school teacher and grandaughter of Emil, will acknowledge that Mooshum was hanged, but not to kill him. "Yes, my dear," Mary Anita says. "Wildstrand cut him down at the last moment, yes…{T}hey never meant to hang him all the way. They wanted to terrify him, to intimidate him. A false hanging will do that."

Ultimately, the mystery is solved. It's an elaborate, multigenerational spider web. As the Judge pointed out: "Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood."

Did I like it? Of course. Both thumbs up.
  weird_O | Sep 14, 2015 |
This semi-autobiographical, semi-historical novel is set in the fictional town of Pluto, North Dakota, which sits on the edge of a Native American reservation and is dying a slow death due to its isolation and lack of well paying jobs. Pluto contains a blend of German-Americans descended from 19th and 20th century settlers, Ojibwe (Chippewa) people, and the mixed race offspring of both groups. An underlying tension is present between the older members of the white and Native American residents, as the Ojibwe hold a longstanding resentment over the land that was taken from them by the settlers, and stories about Pluto's history and its former occupants hover nearby like ever present ghosts. The town's families have lived there for generations, and disagreements from decades past lie just beneath the surface and are not easily forgotten or forgiven.

Evelina is a teenage girl of mixed descent, with a German-American father and an Ojibwe mother, who lives with her parents, younger brother and grandfather Mooshum, a fantastic storyteller whose tales have at least some basis in truth. She attends the local Catholic school, and her agreeable and obedient nature belies her rebeliousness and lustful nature. One day when her father is away and her mother is conversing with her sister, Mooshum tells Evelina and her brother about a tragic event that took place in 1911 that still haunts the town nearly a century later. A family of white farmers were slaughtered in their home, save for a baby who managed to survive thanks to a group of four Ojibwe who rescued the child. A group of prominent men in Pluto learn that the young men were the first ones to discover the massacre, and they accuse them of the murders. They are taken into custody by the town's sheriff, but the townsmen overcome him and take the four into their own hands. They are all strung up to be hung for their crimes, despite their protests of innocence. Three of them are lynched, while a fourth manages to escape. Later the townspeople realize that the Ojibwe youth were not the culprits, but the identity of the actual killer is never discovered.

The novel consists of a series of chapters, in which past and current residents of Pluto provide first person accounts that cover the century from the period just prior to the massacre and subsequent lynching to the current day. In the process, the history of the town and its people are laid down like pieces of a complicated puzzle, although some of the pieces remain missing at its conclusion.

The Plague of Doves is based in part on the 1897 massacre of the Spicer family in North Dakota, and the subsequent lynching of several innocent Ojibwe, and the character of Evelina is heavily but not entirely based on Louise Erdrich's childhood, family and education. Some of its chapters were initially published in The New Yorker, and perhaps as a result this novel for this reader felt disjointed and lacked a smooth flow from one segment to the next. The middle third was the weakest segment by far, but overall this was a very good novel, filled with elements of magic realism and interesting characters, and I look forward to reading more of Erdrich's work in the near future. ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | Apr 21, 2015 |
Erdrich's characters in The Plague of Doves will shadow me for a long time to come. Her poetic and heart wrenching descriptions of the grim realities of a small American town coexisting with a First Nation reservation is masterful. There are no borders of time in the storytelling, nor do emotional or psychological perimeters exist within the characters themselves. It is a journey of filtered perceptions; three different narrators must come to terms with a murder that occurred three generations ago. The pain and suffering experienced by each character follows a continuous ebb and flow of the historical and the emotional.
The town is decaying, characters are growing old or moving on. Cordelia attempts to erase past wrongs by declaring a 'town holiday to commemorate the year she saved the life of her family's murderer.' But what about the murder of Holy Track, Asiginak and Cuthbert, falsely accused and hung without a trial? The memory of the injustices they suffered, have faded away, 'the air is so black I think already���they���are invisible.' Powerful novel!(less) ( )
  BooksUncovered | Feb 17, 2015 |
Really, really good - interesting use of multiple narrators. I want to read more of her novels. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 10, 2015 |
Extraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice has its idiosyncrasies and slightly different vocabulary. The action is centered around the unsolved murder of a family of white farmers in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, that evil was discovered at the time by a group of traveling Indian merchants. Only a tiny babe survived in her crib. The Indians are then summarily lynched by white vigilantes. They had nothing to do with it, of course. Erdrich then shows us how for the next 75 years or so that violent history affects both whites and Indians -- and those of mixed blood like Erdrich herself -- living in Pluto, North Dakota, and the nearby reservation. The non-chronological structure works beautifully. Erdrich writes with a precision about feelings that reminds me of the crucial distinction John Gardner famously made between "sentiment" and "sentimentality." (See his The Art of Fiction) Erdrich's ability to make vivid any given scene seems akin to that of Philip Roth at his best. I make this comparison just to give you a sense of the level of mastery she is operating on here. It's plain she's studied her models well. Extraordinary piece. This is my first Erdrich so I look forward to reading more of her. Her new novel Round House, purportedly the second volume of a planned trilogy that begins with Plague of Doves, received the 2012 National Book Award. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
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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.
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.
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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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