Perma Red
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Perma Red

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  294 ratings  ·  43 reviews
On the reservation, danger looms everywhere, rising out of fear and anger, deprivation and poverty. Fiery-haired Louise White Elk dreams of both belonging and escape, and of discovering love and freedom on her own terms. But she is a beautiful temptation for three men-each more dangerous than the next-who will do anything to possess her...
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 3rd 2003 by Blue Hen Trade (first published June 10th 2002)
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman AlexieLove Medicine by Louise ErdrichBeyond the World of Man by Sheryl SealReservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
Native American Fiction
143rd out of 459 books — 421 voters
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieCatori's Worlds by Murielle CyrBeyond Bridalveil Fall by Sheryl SealDwellers of Ahwahnee by Sheryl SealLove Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Best Native American/First Nations Fiction
29th out of 270 books — 190 voters

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Community Reviews

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I bought this book at a writing conference near Portland where Debra Magpie Earling was one of the keynote speakers. Her writing is unbelievably strong, feminine, vivid, heartbreaking. So on a break, I drove over to Powells and promptly bought it. I even worked up the courage to have her sign it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the stories of native or marginalized peoples--told by the people themselves.
From Library Journal:

"In this beautiful first novel, set on the Flathead Reservation of Montana in the 1940s, Earling traces the youth and young adulthood of Louise White Elk and the men who try to win her heart and soul."

I found this book to be incredibly intense and sad, but it was beautifully written and haunting. Janie
This is Earling's first novel, and it's one of the very best pieces of fiction written in/about Montana (my home). Earling's writing is eloquent, clean, lovely. The story is wrenching. As a first, it sets the bar unbearably high.
This first novel explores the lives of a few people on the Flathead Reservation. Alternately told by Louise and Charlie, it tells of several men’s infatuation with Louise, and Louise’s desire to flee, to find something different, something better, something free. Tragedy and poverty and a little magic fill the lives of these and others in the town of Perma. I had hopes for this novel but it dragged on never quite grabbing me but not horrible enough to give up. There’s a sense of hopelessness tha...more
A girl grows up on the reservation known as a beauty and with several men who want her. There's the full blood 'old' Indian. A cowboy. A rich white man. She grows up afraid of the full blood man, but she becomes fascinated. He knows the old ways and that attracts her. He can be evil when drinking and that scares her. It wasn't til the book was over that I realized the characters represented those groups of people that affected the natives. How the poor white man was used by the arrogant rich man...more
Despite all her instincts and longings for freedom, red-headed enchantress Louise White Elk cannot tear her dusty Montana destiny from Baptiste Yellow Knife on the desperately poor Flathead Indian reservation in the 1940s.

Perma Red was a haunting, dark, romantic western. The language was beautiful and unrelenting as I felt all the pain that Louise White Elk went through as a beautiful child, then woman. Her situation was so desperate and full of longing. Debra Magpie Earling did a splendid job p...more
It's a good book, with an interesting perspective on reservation life. One major theme are the challenges of having to straddle two cultures, and the struggles of assimilation to mainstream American culture. Overall, a good book, and I'd be interested in reading more from the author.

I saw the author read a short story at a local library event, and talked to her afterward. Her reading was fantastic, and she was great to speak with. She also answered questions about Perma Red, the original ending,...more
As I was reading this book by husband asked me, "Is it a good book? Do you like it?" and my response was, "No." Then why are you reading it? I guess I just wanted to know what happened but it wasn't worth it. I should've just put it down. Louise is not a believable character--how can so much tragedy happen to one person so young in such a short amount of time?! How can the men in this book be so shallow and so mean? I guess it is written about a world that I just don't understand--a Native Ameri...more
Kae Cheatham
A dark, dense look at the distressing life of a girl on the 1940s Flathead reservation in Montana. Moments of brilliance in descriptive passages. Use of alternate voices (first person for one character and third person narrative for all others) is handled well. The story is overpowering with a negative and brutal portrayal of every major character. I finished the book because I wanted to fully understand the development, and not because of any deep caring for the people. The ending was unsatisfa...more
So, I have finished the book, for the second time. I love how you can remember the basics of a story but forget the details that make it so powerful. So, it was great to read it again. I liked the ending. Despite all of the tragedy, Louise and Baptiste seem happy in the end. Unfortunately, I know that this novel is based off of a true story and Louise in real life does not have a happy ending.
Aug 28, 2007 Julie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: kristin, amanda
Part of this book's appeal for me was certainly its setting in my former backyard, and part what I have of my own misgivings about the time I spent living on the Flathead reservation (what that required historically and contextually)-- but also, the story is told in a way that throws trauma on top of trauma without time for the characters to recover. The weight of it stuck with me.
I just couldn't get through this one. It is rare that I give up on a book, but this one was a bit too abstract and artsy for me. I felt very distant and removed from the main characters and had a hard time following exactly what was happening. Darn. I know a lot of other people that really loved it, but I guess its not for everyone.
This book puts you on the Flathead reservation in the 40s which is a harsh place to be. Heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. The horror of the mission school and a system that sets people up to fail on their own land over which they have no control. My only complaint is that some of the protagonists are too broken to empathize with.
This book is real sad, coming from me that's saying something, and only becomes hopeful at the tail-end, which winds up feeling saccharine and contrived. The author has crafted some beautiful sentences, but there is a lack of character development that really hurts the book as whole.
Linda Robinson
The cover art is prescient and ponderous, as impactful as this immense novel. Thick with imagery, thick like blood, like ice rutted on a road. Like a fist. Like ghosts in a fever dream, the air before a summer storm. The words drum in your chest and you can't breathe. Powerful.
Caroline Alicia
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
a really good read. although emotionally difficult at times. raw, poetic, connected to the land, just a touch of mysticism/supernatural(i love this). an interesting style...POV from inside someone's thoughts... simple and driven by emotion, by instinct in the moment.
An epic love story: a beautiful woman and three men vying for her. All four of them war with their inner truths exposed through their strivings with each other. However, these strivings dwarf under power that unites two of them: Louise White Elk and Baptiste Yellow Knife.
Jul 28, 2010 Katie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: ndnz
I didn't want this book to end. Literally. It was the first leg of a trip out of town and I hadn't brought another book. But seriously, I really enjoyed this story. Apparently stories about Native women are my new go-to books.
This book was actually hard for me to read. It's very close to home and although there was a bit of symoblism that could have been left out it's a book that I truly enjoy when I was done with it.
I can't count how many times I gasped while reading this book. This book went places I never thought it would go. Alright, and I cried too. Laughed a bit, gritted my teeth and yup, teared up.
Debra Magpie Earling's novel of life on the Flathead Indian Reservation is beautifully crafted with strong characters and structure and description. This is contemporary Western writing at its best.
Della Scott
No need to recommend this--I read it when it first came out, I think. I was interested in it because I am from the same part of Montana where the novel is set.
The publishers forced the author to change the original ending of the story because it was to dark. Just something to consider when reviewing this book.
Take someone's country, put them in reservations and then force their children to go to a school where they are taught to hate themselves.
I am not too sure what I expected, but this was not it. The sugar coating which wrapped up the end left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Destiny Esper
I liked this book, but it wasn't great. Some of the writing is quite choppy. And at times, it's extremely hard to follow.
Damn fine writing from a great storyteller. Stop wasting time reading this review, and start reading that book!
Lyrical, haunting, brutal. I couldn't read it fast enough or bring myself to put it down right away when I finished.
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