Lacey Louwagie's Reviews > Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

Dakota by Kathleen Norris
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's review
Jul 26, 07

bookshelves: memoir
Recommended for: anyone who romanticizes small towns or forgets they exist
Read in July, 2007

I came across this book while doing some research for work, and when I told my boss I was interested in reading it, she generously loaned me her copy. I've always had a bit of a love affair with the Dakotas -- the vast openness and the miles upon miles between towns speaks to both the recluse and the small-town girl in me. In this book, Kathleen Norris has collected her essays about Dakota (she lived in S. Dakota but repeatedly refers to both Dakotas as just "Dakota"). I could appreciate her insight as both an outsider -- she spent most of her childhood and young adulthood in Hawaii and New York City -- and as an insider -- her mom grew up in South Dakota and Kathleen's move to her mother's childhood home spurred the essays in this book. I think that Kathleen has the objectivity of an outsider balanced with the love and compassion of an insider, and her feelings about Dakota intersect with my own experience of being both an "outsider" and "insider" in a small plains' town. She manages to explore the simpleness, complexity, and frustration of rural life without ridiculing or romanticizing it, and she keeps these small towns from becoming completely invisible to the culture. Reading this filled me with longing for the Dakotas, nostalgia about the culture in which I grew up, and also a touch of relief that I don't live in such a small community anymore.

Many of these essays were published prior to this collection, so there are several places where Kathleen Norris seems to "repeat herself" if you read all the essays at once. I also struggled with her depiction of / fascination with monastic communities. She seems to carry her relationships with monastic life like a bit of a trophy, romanticizing it even as she criticizes others for romanticizing monasteries -- acknowledging the burden Benedictine monks take on by their Rule of Hospitality even as she seems keen to take advantage of that vow at every opportunity. But then, maybe I'm just jealous that she gets to hang out at monasteries and I don't.
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