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Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
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A-The Plague of DovesNational Book Award finalist Louise Erdrich—of mixed German, French, and Ojibwa ancestry—is best known for exploring generations of the Chippewa/Ojibwa in the Plains. In her 12th novel, she spins an intricate web of violence, secrets, and lies.

The Story: After a local white family is found murdered outside Pluto, North Dakota, in 1911, an angry mob lynches four innocent Ojibwa men from the nearby reservation. The hangings and their aftermath haunt the little town of Pluto, even as, generations later, the lives of the descendants of both the victims and the vigilantes have intertwined in surprising and significant ways. Fifty years after the terrible murders, teenaged Evelina Harp hears the story from her beloved Ojibwa grandfather Mooshum, and her subsequent obsession with the crime sets in motion events that may finally allow the residents of Pluto to come to terms with their shared past. After all, as they discover, "history works itself out in the living."
HarperCollins. 314 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060515120

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Erdrich moves sure-footedly from the dramatic (the lynching, a doomed expedition to establish the town, a lightning strike that turns [a Bible salesman] from man to beast) to the humorous (Mooshum’s priest-teasing and randy pursuit of [the town historian]) to the mystical (a violin that seeks its master, an attack by honeybees, [a cult leader’s] swirling visions)." Carole Goldberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In synopsis, the plot lines seem operatic, but Erdrich’s artistry and passion had me believing every word. … Erdrich moves seamlessly from grief to sexual ecstasy, from comedy (Mooshum’s proof of the nonexistence of hell is priceless) to tragedy, from richly layered observations of nature and human nature to magical realism." Brigitte Frase

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"By turns chilling, funny, astonishing, wild, wrenching and mournful, The Plague of Doves is a rich, colorful mosaic of tales that twist and turn for decades around tiny Pluto, N.D., their secrets whispered through generations of French, German, Indian and mixed-blood families. … The resolutions of all mysteries will be revealed, but Erdrich takes her time, her gorgeous, restrained prose offering feints and hints but also distracting us with other, equally absorbing stories." Connie Ogle

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Michiko Kakutani

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"This is Erdrich territory, with its high drama, wry humor, exalted and earthy passion, and bold, graceful, circling pattern of narrative. … Occasionally, the novel may seem disjunctive, but yes, it does add up." Sandra Scofield

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"She’s challenged us before with complex, interconnected stories about the Ojibwe people of North Dakota, but here she goes for broke, whirling out a vast, fractured narrative, teeming with characters—ancestors, cousins, friends and enemies, all separated and rejoined again and again in uncanny ways over the years. … What marks these stories … is what has always set Erdrich apart and made her work seem miraculous: the jostling of pathos and comedy, tragedy and slapstick in a peculiar dance." Ron Charles

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Erdrich’s characters are her story, its theme their connections. While not up to her earlier novel, The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, and occasionally affected in tone and style, the intricately interwoven stories ultimately make for intriguing if not always easy reading." Sybil Downing

Critical Summary

Erdrich, heralded as a "master storyteller" (Miami Herald), echoes the richness and style of Native American oral traditions in The Plague of Doves. The novel showcases her beautiful prose, vivid characters, and consummate skill juggling multiple narrators and nonlinear storylines. Erdrich organizes the plot around the tangled memories and family trees of the residents of Pluto, and it unfolds from their varying perspectives in alternating chapters. The numerous characters and narrative threads confused some critics at first, but they all claimed it was well worth the effort to keep them straight. "With The Plague of Doves," concludes the New York Times, Erdrich "has written what is arguably her most ambitious—and in many ways, her most deeply affecting—work yet."

Also by the Author

Love Medicine (1984): F National Book Critics Circle Award Erdrich’s debut novel is a powerful multigenerational portrait of two extended families on a Chippewa reservation.

The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003): In this tale of love and forgiveness, a former German soldier and his wife settle in Argus, North Dakota, shortly after World War I, set up a butcher shop, and struggle to succeed in small-town America. ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2003)