Just finished this novel last night. I don't read a lot of novels, but I have a few on my shelf which have always come to me strongly recommended by someone I trust. I don't remember who gave me this one. It might have been B. She is very much into all things native.
The book is excellent. It also was a 1984 bestseller and got a book critics circle award for fiction. It was Erdrich's first novel, and I am sure that many of the subplots in it are bits and pieces from her upbringing as a half-Chippewa in North Dakota.
What strikes me about it, first, is the variety of perspectives the author is able to take. She writes from first and third person perspectives of male and female characters, young and old. She takes a hard look at alcoholism, and PTSD, at our legal system, at the rivalries and drama of siblings and marriages and humanity. In the end I was lifted by her compassion, by knowing that there is a person out there who sees the love inside of troubled people and can write about it.
The book tells tales on Lulu Lamartine throughout the book, but you don't get to hear about the world from her point of view until the very end. I liked Lulu, and many of the other characters. Lulu took pleasure in life, in men, in her many sons. She saw the beauty in things. She forgave. She kept her secrets. There are those who would judge her for her sexuality, but there were many in the tribe that didn't, because they participated in it.
Another striking thing about this book is the way the stories unfold over time as each chapter tells another point of view. The stories gradually work from long past to present, but sometimes in the present the truth is buried, instead of revealed. Other stories come to light and make a difference for someone. One of the most basic stories is that of a person's origins. Who are your parents? Where did you come from? Do you know? In a world full of illegitimate children, it's not a given.
I have a copy here to give away. I recommend it.