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The Sentence (2021)

by Louise Erdrich

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2008107,835 (4.13)19

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This was the first novel I've read set during some very recent events: the period of the pandemic, and the unrest following the murder of George Floyd. And it was just right. The storytelling style given to Tookie is idosyncratic, just a little unusual, but it really worked for me. It's a love story, a ghost story, and a prison story, but mainly it's a story about a bookstore and a complex woman who relates to others primarily through her work there. Interweaving the (presumably fictional) story of Tookie with so much reality—Louise Erdrich herself is a character in the book—means that it is easy for the feelings engendered by this novel for Tookie and her neighbors to translate into real concern for the non-fictional version of her community, and for Minneapolis, and for the world. ( )
  bibliovermis | Nov 29, 2021 |
Reading this novel I felt for the first time that I genuinely began to grasp the vast gap between white American thinking and native people's thinking. Erdrich, Ojibwa herself, is able to articulate the experience of ways of perceiving, thinking, and believing which vary deeply from that passed down in my white culture. It includes, but is not limited to, anger at past treatment. The plot, about one woman's experience in prison, followed by work in a bookstore, a haunting by a deceased annoying customer, and a family struggling to get by emotionally. As seems to be the case in most of Erdrich's novels, the reader is encouraged to examine simple humanity, spirituality, family, and the nature of love. An excellent read! ( )
  hemlokgang | Nov 28, 2021 |
“Books contain everything worth knowing except what ultimately matters.”
- Tookie

My second bookstore novel in a row! Buy coincidence! Also, a cool coincidence to be reading this one week before ‘Thankstaking’!

Five days after Flora died, she was still coming to the book store. This is the skeletal plot point of an amazing book! I was captivated, moved, and shaken while reading this. Everything felt raw and real. I loved the characters, and I loved how the words flow in and around them! And I loved, loved, loved the bookstore! So much so, that I feel strongly about visiting it and basking in its warmth. Soon, I hope.

Erdrich really captures the feeling of life at the beginning of the Covid pandemic - the fear, the unknown, the panicked hoarding. This sentence, “The new rules for being alive kept changing.”, perfectly described how I felt, and still feel. She also ties in the murder of George Floyd, which takes place near to where the characters in this book live. This book made me re-feel everything that I felt then, and still feel. Reading it brought me such joy. Finishing it, such sorrow.

“The door is open. Go!” ( )
  Stahl-Ricco | Nov 24, 2021 |
This wonderful book includes a bookshop, indigenous Americans, a death, a haunting, a baneful book, the coronavirus pandemic, the George Floyd murder and subsequent demonstrations. So much story, and for me unusual content, but I felt relaxed being enchanted by a master storyteller.
It starts with Tookie’s crime, followed by ten years imprisonment, which are briefly passed over because they are not the story, and whose waste might be redeemed by Tookie’s engagement with books. The story is what happens next, the whole thing, books and people, everything interconnected.
Highly recommended and I will be reading more by this author.

This is the first book I have read that talks about the pandemic for more than a name-check and I hope that others can depict the onset and early period of uncertainty as well.

I received a Netgalley copy of this book, but this review is my honest opinion.

Bonus: this book includes, as an integral part of the story, some lists of books to read, and an admonition to buy them from an independent bookshop. ( )
1 vote CarltonC | Nov 23, 2021 |
The Sentence, Louise Erdrich, author and narrator
The book is about books and words, some common, some unique, and some completely unknown to most readers; it is about words that make up the sentences that send us messages, whispered, written or shouted into the void. It is about the influence of the sentences that propel us through life. It is about the double meaning of words at different times of our lives, and the author presents the message in the form of chapters that seem like anecdotal memories of moments in her life that are somehow meaningfully knitted together. In the end, they form a coherent whole or paragraph, shall we say. At the very end, the sentence used as an example explains the entire purpose of the book. Although it does not present an uplifting message, the end is more hopeful as it tells us not only to live, but to go out and love. This, in today's tumultuous times, is a very necessary idea. There is too much conflict, anger and foreboding in our lives.
Every progressive issue will be mentioned in this book since the author uses is as a platform to express her philosophy clearly. It is done well and will be enjoyed greatly by those who are on her side, especially. Others, however, might be alienated and take offense. In the author’s effort to not only stress, but to make her politics and philosophy known, the book sometimes feels a bit like propaganda for the Progressives. She highlights issues of racism, police brutality, unhealthy diet and lifestyles, crime, climate change, prison reform, an unfair and subjective justice system, a lack of respect for the environment, and countless other left-wing issues in all of her little reminiscences, legends and myths from her ancestors, family, friends and fellow workers, but she offers no real solutions for the problems.
Using the current events of the day, like the death of George Floyd, the riots in Minneapolis that followed, the defund the police movement, and the rise of BLM, coupled with the current, continuing pandemic crisis, she trashes the "right" side of politics and President Trump, never once giving him any credit for any of his accomplishments, notably a vaccine, the fastest developed in history, for a disease that was and is still killing thousands. Her views are biased and she is speaking to only half of the country, and possibly turning off the other half, regardless of how meritorious her novel may actually be.
The main character, Tookie, is an ex-convict. She was convicted of stealing a dead body to soothe her friend Danae, who was having a moment of deep and uncontrollable grief. Of course, the $25,000 payment she was offered influenced her already flawed judgment. Unknown to her, the friend turned out to be an enemy, taking advantage of her extreme immaturity and naivete. Her friend Danae and her accomplice Mara, had made Tookie a mule. Drugs were hidden on the body she transported across state lines, compounding her crime. Although they set her up, she was sentenced to a term of six decades, while her friends received far lighter sentences. Released after ten years because of the efforts of the cop she married, Pollux, she begins to live again, although with a lot of emotional and psychological baggage. Plagued by her own guilt, loneliness and haunted by ghosts, real and imagined, she proceeds to work out her future life.
Using Pollux, the author further expresses her politics as we learn that he wonders if he should kneel along with the rioting protesters who want to ensure that Derek Chauvin is convicted for the murder of Floyd. His first wife died of a drug overdose. His daughter, Hetta, from that marriage, has recently borne a child, Jarvis, out of wedlock. Laurent is the father. He is the very same Laurent, who disappears and resurfaces to have a relationship with Tookie’s bookstore workmate, Asema. When Asema and Hetta become friends, it further stretches credulity. Laurent is afraid that he is carrying a terrible, inherited trait that will be passed on to their child. It is called Rugaroo. Those with it refuse to die. They repeatedly return back to life. He believes that his problems have been watered down through the years, with far less serious consequences. He merely suffers from cravings, he believes. He admits that he was afraid Hetta would reject him, so he ran. They all, except for Tookie, participate in the protests that often became very violent. Somehow, the real and unreal parts of the narrative do merge into an interesting, if not very plausible, tale.
Because the author used the book almost as propaganda to trash former President Trump, I was very disappointed. I have had just about enough of Trump Derangement Syndrome, especially with the way the current White house is conducting our affairs. It is time for a reality check for her and many readers. On the positive side, I learned that blue, like red, wards off the evil eye. I also learned that although I lived in Minnesota, just 12 miles from Minneapolis, I was never aware of racial problems while I resided there.
In addition, this author should not have read her own book. She was too close to the story, over emoted, and spoke with a throaty, bordering on sexy, voice which more often than not, made me sleepy. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Nov 16, 2021 |
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From the time of birth to the time of death, every word you utter is part of one long sentence. - Sun Yung Shin, Unbearable Splendor
To everyone who has worked at Birchbark Books, to our customers, and to our ghosts.
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While in prison, I received a dictionary.
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