Thriller set off the A12 in EAST LONDON
Novel set in North Dakota
24th December 2016
La Rose by Louise Erdrich – a novel set in North Dakota.
This is Erdrich’s 15th novel, so she’s no novice; in fact, she has received many accolades including a National Book Award and is hailed as the writer who has done most to illuminate the lives of Native Americans. Normally, this kind of description of an author would put me off reading their work. I’d expect something heavy and worthy and virtuous and perhaps difficult to read.
La Rose is none of these things. It’s just a very good story, very well told and that’s how Erdrich sees herself – primarily as a storyteller. As a novel, this has all the ingredients needed to make for a satisfying read – it is both tragic and comic, well plotted and gripping from start to finish, filled with interesting characters and multi-layered enough to engage the most intellectual of readers. Her prose is beautiful – simple yet strong and at times quite heart wrenching. “Curled underneath the bus seat ….He dozed off …He did not wake when the bus stopped, when all of them got off. He did not wake when they shaved his head for lice and left him in the shower while they found him new clothes without bugs. Not even in bed that night, the next morning either, did he wake. He never woke up. He was still sleeping on that bus.”
The novel is set in North Dakota in the late summer of 1999. Landreaux Iron, an Ojibwe man, is out hunting and accidentally shoots and kills the five year old son of his neighbour and friend, Peter Ravich. Landreaux is appalled by what he has done and is tempted to give in to his longstanding weakness for alcohol, but instead buries himself in a sweat lodge and seeks guidance. Following an old Native American custom of atonement, he decides that the best course of action is to offer his own five year old son, La Rose, to the parents of the dead child to help to make their family whole again. Erdrich then goes on to explore the incredibly messy aftermath of this tragic situation and takes the story from the narrow confines of the two families to the wider context of the whole community. There is a pleasing circularity in the structure of this novel, the ending taking the reader back to the first tragic event with surprising results.
This is a complex novel, taking the reader back through time to 1839 and the story of the first La Rose, who was sold by her mother to a white man, who abused her. As she traces the story of the succeeding La Rose characters through the generations, Erdrich subtly forces the reader to acknowledge the damage that has been done to the Indian people. And yet, the novel ultimately conveys hope. Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain of Chippewa Indians, sees herself as “writing out of the mixture of cultures,” and that is what comes across. She shows us how her Native American characters have taken what they needed from the white man, whilst still being able to hold on the important parts of their heritage.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team
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