Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

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book discussions > Discussion: The Plague of Doves




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Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
Ditto from me, Rashida!


message 35: by jo (new)

jo | 805 comments Mod
also, rashida, you rock.


message 34: by jo (new)

jo | 805 comments Mod
as the month crawls to an end, i want to say that this has been a really nice thread. i'm sorry that i did remember so little about the book, but people's comments reminded me of the enchantment i felt when i first read it, all the same.


Janet | 94 comments all

thank you for these insights. just finished reading - and was surprised to come across pieces I'd read as short stories in the new yorker some time ago.

for me the beauty and power comes from the interconnectedness of people's actual lives and histories as well as the less tangible connections of shared experience, sadness, loss, humor - all of it - that the threads engender. our collective reactions come from our ability to recognize, empathize and understand, no?

i'm so grateful to this list/group -

thanks




Jackie | 49 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "I think that, for a storyteller like Mooshum, there was no choice but to tell the story and let the chips fall as they would. "

Mooshum's Catholicism dies hard as this confessional and his story telling instincts meet in a powerful story.

Thanks Rashida for that clarification. I wondered if I had missed a section where Mooshum's drunkenness meets Warren's psychotic tendencies. Whew--I'm glad that wasn't the source of his culpability. Yikes!


Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
I think that, for a storyteller like Mooshum, there was no choice but to tell the story and let the chips fall as they would.


Rashida | 264 comments Jackie wrote: "Thank you for bringing up Mooshum's culpability in the murder and hanging. I was unclear as to exactly how he instigated either. I realized that he was drunk, but I wasn't quite sure about the source of his shame (other than not having been hanged with the others)."

My impression was that he got drunk and spilled the beans about who had been at the house earlier, so the lynch mob knew exactly who to go get, that combined with his guaranteed survival, was so horrible for him to live with.

It's a good question that William raises, why would he tell this story at all. It has to be that he thinks that by airing it, he can begin to be absolved for it. What other motivation could there be? Do you think in his head he could have so revised what happened that he's written himself out of that portion, and truly would not expect anyone to tell Lina about his role?




Rashida | 264 comments William wrote: "Whenever I've met Native people I expect the introductions to take a little longer than usual because a Native person explains where he comes from, his ancestors sometimes generations back, and wh..."

I think a big part of Erdrich's storytelling is to say, "hey, we're not all teepees and animal spirits and feathers and beads." We are as individual as non-native people, as "modern", and have just the same complex lives. Yes, race and culture are important, but so is the universal human and recognizing that romanticizing and civilizing the savage are but two sides of the same coin.


Jackie | 49 comments William wrote: "Mooshun was the groit, the story teller, the keeper of the family history the others wanted to hide away..but he was also an instigator and protagonist. If he knew he was culpable why did he not ke..."

Thank you for bringing up Mooshum's culpability in the murder and hanging. I was unclear as to exactly how he instigated either. I realized that he was drunk, but I wasn't quite sure about the source of his shame (other than not having been hanged with the others).



William (be2lieve) | 557 comments Mod
Whenever I've met Native people I expect the introductions to take a little longer than usual because a Native person explains where he comes from, his ancestors sometimes generations back, and where he fits in the family and tribal history which is so much more important than he or she is as a "name" or individual. Africans, of course, had the same attitude towards ancestor worship which was destroyed and replaced in some instances by Islam on the Continent and Christian sanctioned slavery in the West.
My point being that Erdrich is upholding and retelling the stories of her people (which now include Europeans) just as Natives do every time they shake your hand, African Americans do through poetry and hip hop and Europeans do in museums and history books..


message 26: by Wilhelmina (last edited Aug 13, 2009 09:10PM) (new)

Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
I loved that passage, too! Erdrich is a master storyteller. The more I think about this book, the more I like it.


message 25: by William (last edited Aug 13, 2009 09:51PM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 557 comments Mod
Mooshun was the groit, the story teller, the keeper of the family history the others wanted to hide away..but he was also an instigator and protagonist. If he knew he was culpable why did he not keep his secrets to himself? He reminds me of people who can't seem to stop talking even if its obvious that the story will lead to their own implication. He knew very well that when he so willingly related the story of the murdered white family and lynched Natives that it would eventually expose himself as the drunken catalyst. Certainly he felt shame at escaping the hanging himself because of his mixed bloodline...was all his humor a cover for carrying an extraordinary burden? Mooshun actually fits perfectly the modern concept of most comedians...that they have learned to use humor to mask very deep and tragic events...


One perfect and unexpected passage...after getting the banker to confess to the kidnapping years ago she calmly walked up the stairs and called the police...I bet he didn't see that coming!




Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
Yes! Thanks, Rashida!


Rashida | 264 comments The record player wasn't skipping, but it was important. From the eerie beginning:

"The baby's crying set him on edge. He put down the gun and looked around for a hammer, but saw the gramophone. He walked over to it. There was already a record on the spindle, so he cranked the mechanism and set down the needle. He sat back down in the chair and picked up his work as the music flowed into the room. The baby quieted. An unearthly violin solo in the middle of the record made the man stop, the pieces of the gun in his hands. He got up when the music was finished and cranked the gramophone and put the recording back on. This happened three times. the baby fell asleep. The man repaired the gun so the bullet slid nicely into its chamber. He tried it several times, then rose and stood over the crib. The violin reached a crescendo of strange sweetness. He raised the gun. the odor of raw blood was all around him in the closed room."

Actually, from this passage I thought that the baby was killed, too, so I was quite pleasantly surprised when Mooshum and crew found the baby alive later.


message 22: by jo (new)

jo | 805 comments Mod
Wilhelmina wrote: "our lives are pretty much limited to our perspective and often it does take years to get a fuller picture, making sense of our own existence. That's what I love about these kinds of well-crafted epics."

and very often we never do. and very often what we learn contradicts other things we know. and this is not even talking about the lives of other! our siblings, our parents and grandparents, our family, our clan, our people...


Jackie | 49 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Rashida wrote: "Jackie wrote: "My biggest question was, did I miss a major reference to music as it related to Warren previous to his death? Was this a telling encounter with Corwin Peace or was it..."

I completely agree when it comes to nonlinear writing. In fact, it intrigues me. I'm surprised I haven't made myself watch that movie that is supposedly told as a giant jigsaw puzzle. I've heard people rave about it--I think its title is the name of a street. Anyhow, the point being, is that our lives are pretty much limited to our perspective and often it does take years to get a fuller picture, making sense of our own existence. That's what I love about these kinds of well-crafted epics.


Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
Rashida wrote: "Jackie wrote: "My biggest question was, did I miss a major reference to music as it related to Warren previous to his death? Was this a telling encounter with Corwin Peace or was it simply an ackno..."

OK, I'll admit it - I don't remember the skipping record player. Where was that passage? I felt silly not realizing that Warren committed the crimes - he practically told us himself throughout the book!

Like everyone else, I loved Erdrich's use of language and the humor of the book, especially the two old guys. But what really captured me was the over-the-top nature of everything in this book, from the weather in the expedition section to the love affairs that seemed to drive people to near-madness. "The Plague of Doves" seemed to be a very fitting title for that reason, Something as gentle and harmless as one dove becomes a plague when multiplied by thousands upon thousands.

With the possible exception of the cult story (maybe I should reread that part), I loved all of the stories and the way they were interwoven. Nonlinear writing doesn't bother me at all.


William (be2lieve) | 557 comments Mod
I really enjoyed the book for the most part but I have to agree with Rukshana's observations that a family tree would have been very helpful..and, no, there was none in my print version. I guess I just like a more linear approach in my story telling and get a bit annoyed when I find myself wondering who is talking and where do they fit in the whole of the story. I had the same problem with the different narrators at the start of almost every chapter of Morrison's "A Mercy".
I also, like Rukshana. was disappointed that after becoming fully engaged in the family's murder mystery that story line it seemed to just have been dropped. A casualty of, I presume as I later found out, the cribbing together of previously published short stories. In my humble opinion these two factors prevented this good book from being one of my great books.

But on to things I really liked.The hilarity of some of the passages was off the chain. Erdrich deftly skewers the pompous and imperious priest and shows him for what he is. Clearly a buffoon who imagines himself superior. He even eulogizes the wrong man...a comic masterpiece as others have pointed out. When Erdrich points out both the inanities and similarities of both the native and Western religions she is speaking to an audience much wider than a corner of N.D. and makes Mooshuns defection back to his tribal ways quite logical.
Erdrich is also a descriptive powerhouse...my skin was crawling when reading the passages where Billy's wife laid down with the snakes, and I'm not particularly scared of snakes, but I could see the blue hourglasses on the snakes red body as it crawled over her chest and into her armpits..Yikes!


Jackie | 49 comments Rashida wrote: "Jackie wrote: "My biggest question was, did I miss a major reference to music as it related to Warren previous to his death? Was this a telling encounter with Corwin Peace or was it simply an ackno..."

Thanks Rashida!! Great catch with the record player--I hadn't thought of that. I had the feeling throughout the book that I hadn't kept everything in my head as I should have . . . I'm glad to hear that the concert wasn't an obvious reference back to a clue that I had missed. (c; I'll keep reviewing the book as well.



Rashida | 264 comments Jackie wrote: "My biggest question was, did I miss a major reference to music as it related to Warren previous to his death? Was this a telling encounter with Corwin Peace or was it simply an acknowledgment of the power of Shamengwa eventually to bring justice even from beyond the grave?"

Hmmm, Jackie, good question. I will try to look closer through the book this weekend, I can't think of much. But perhaps it has something to do with the record player that was skipping at the beginning?



Ksab | 25 comments Hi All-I'm thoroughly enjoying reading this book-I tried to read it when it first came out but was very -dare I say confused- by the many characters. This time around I am -I think focussing on the narrative-the flow-and as many of you have mentioned-the interconnectedness of people's stories. Regardless of who is German, white or Native the point is that it almost does not matter.Growing up we have been conditioned-with TV westerns to focus on the White man vs. the Indian -and perhaps-most likely-routed for the Indians. But in Louise Erdrich heritage and life experience we see that most times -in the lands near the reservations-Natives,Germans,whites, and others were/are connected by their common experience-whether in intermarriage or adversity. PS-I Particularly love Louise's descriptions of nature and the characters. Most people depended on the land for their livelihood -but were also affected ie experienced the spirituality of nature. Here's to Louise!!!


Jackie | 49 comments I absolutely loved this book. In my Goodreads review of it, I referenced Middlemarch by George Eliot (for the interwoven lives), The Poinsonwood Bible by Barbara Kinsolver (for the shifting first person narratives) and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (for the puzzle pieces that come together so that when you finish, you feel the urge to return to the first page to reread with new eyes).

I loved the humor, specifically with the priest (Wooshum's "funeral"). but also all the times that characters ended up redeemed in unexpected ways (Marn and Corwin).

The question about whether ethnic identity was difficult to track was so astute. I also felt that some of the writing implied that you might not have kept up with previous stories as the first person narrative referenced his / her past but doesn't tell the story we were supposed to "remember" until later. This happened several times when Judge Coutts was the narrator, then I realized, "Oh he hasn't told that part yet."

My biggest question was, did I miss a major reference to music as it related to Warren previous to his death? Was this a telling encounter with Corwin Peace or was it simply an acknowledgment of the power of Shamengwa eventually to bring justice even from beyond the grave?


Rashida | 264 comments Here is a link to the Washington Post Review of the book. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

Reading this again, it reminded me of the humor of the book, which I quite loved, and I thought was absolutely necessary to see the dual side of life in this community. Even among the tragedy, there was laughter. Mooshum and Shamengwa were hilarious old men, and their ongoing feud with the priest, right up to the funeral was a delightful side thread woven throughout.


Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
I think that Evelina will leave. One of my favorite passages in the book is when Evelina says (on p.268 in my copy):

When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape. I didn't want to go. I didn't know what would happen to me, bad or good, or whether I could bear it either way. But Corwin's playing of a wordless tune my uncle had taught him brightened the air. As I walked away I kept on hearing that music.


message 12: by jo (new)

jo | 805 comments Mod
you are so right, rashida. i read the book some time ago and remember only sketches of it. i spoke with way too much assurance. tsk.

What does it mean that Evelina plays with her boundaries, geographically and sexually, throughout her life- falling in love with Corwin and Sister Godzilla, moving away and working in the psych ward, falling for her patient, getting admitted, and eventually returning and working at the diner. Do you think that she will stay around or eventually move away?


i love this question. it's a good question. alas, i wish i remembered more. i know erdrich always plays with gender, and i love her for it. i hope someone who remembers the book better than i will address it. it seems crucial, somehow, especially since it's in the diner that she meets (and saves?) billy's wife, and because she is part of a bunch of plot lines.

rukshana, i do not remember if there is a genealogical tree in the print version but i suspect not. i would totally have used it!

i have a feeling the boundaries of the reservation are loose and overlap with the town etc. the reservation as a space and as a cultural locus doesn't seem to play much of a role, yes?

but you are so right on the initial murder, rukshana. it's as if erdrich had wanted to hold it all together after having written the various parts (which were published separately as short stories), so invented this murder thingie and tied it all in, except not really. and since she's a post-modern writer and a cool writer who likes to keep things flowing and untidy, she decided that WHO CARES IF THE MURDER DOESN'T QUITE WORK AS THE UNIFYING CENTER OF THE PLOT? there is a trauma at the root, and the trauma is the trauma of racism and deracination, and that's all we need to know.

i don't even remember what the pluto historical society is! shame!

i find the language of this book amazing. i worship at the altar of louise erdrich. now i'm gonna go add her to my favorite authors.


Rukshana | 4 comments These are great questions! Looking forward to the discussion...


Rashida | 264 comments Actually, Jo, I think there is ample support that some of the characters in the novel are white. I think the questions are does that matter, and if so, why?

Remember we are only two generations removed from the Holy Track incident in the most "present day" episodes. I estimate that the furthest we get along is into the 70s. Marne Wolde, wife of Billy who escapes the cult, is the niece of the actual killer of the family. That combined with the fact that her family lives outside the reservation, makes me believe that she is one of our white characters.

Aunt Harp is friends with Dr. C (the survived baby). Remember the Indian populace believes the doctor to be racist, her treating of and eventual affair with Judge Coutts would not be so "exceptional" if she was also maintaining a longtime friendship with a woman who was of Indian descent. And remember she herself explains that her lingering guilt over what happened to the young men has made it difficult for associate with Native Americans around her.

If Aunt Harp is one of our white characters, then so would be her brother, Evelina's father, which makes Evelina (our psych ward assistant and eventual patient) one of our biracial characters, as is her cousin and crush Corwin Peace.

More important though, then identifying, who is who in this manner, I think we do have to ask what does it matter. I think that the fact that it is Evelina's generation where we truly begin to see the results of the intermingling of the different cultures is part of what we are meant to analyze. What can we learn from her experiences? Hearing the tales of her Mooshum and Great Uncle Shamengwa. As well, as the history collected by Aunt Harp and the discord with her dad caused by the inheritance. What does it mean that Evelina plays with her boundaries, geographically and sexually, throughout her life- falling in love with Corwin and Sister Godzilla, moving away and working in the psych ward, falling for her patient, getting admitted, and eventually returning and working at the diner. Do you think that she will stay around or eventually move away?

What does Corwin's development mean for the future of the community?

Is the Pluto Historical Society fighting a losing battle?


Rukshana | 4 comments I agree with many of your comments Jo! I am enjoying the book and am almost through. Erdrich writes beautifully and her language keeps me occupied while I battle L.A. traffic (listening to the audiobook). It was also difficult for me to keep track of the different stories, as is typical with family saga-type novels. I love those though! A family tree would have been helpful – I wonder if there was one in the print version?

I enjoyed Evelina’s story the most. I interpreted it as a coming-of-age story, which I’ve discovered I really like! I was confused, however, about why she committed herself to the mental institution. It seemed so sudden and unnecessary. I was riveted and disturbed by Marn’s story.

For me, also, the murder which started off the book did not affect the various stories as explicitly as I thought it would. I know that such a horrible event would traumatize individuals, families, communities, and the town for generations, but that wasn’t developed as much as I thought it would be. Maybe I am missing something?

In response to Rashida’s question about full-blood vs. mixed characters, it was difficult for me to distinguish. What I think is important, however, and I think what Erdrich was trying to illustrate, is the way in which blood, stories, trauma, and relationships, become intermingled and indistinguishable over time, especially in the context of a small town. (Was it a reservation, I am not sure? I know Evelina grew up on a reservation.)



jo | 805 comments Mod
billy's story was my favorite, i think, or the one i remember best and so stuck with me. i love the way erdrich portrays billy's wife's (name?) move from love and attraction to loathing of this man. and the way in which billy himself deteriorates into a ruthless tyrant.

i also loved the one about the lesbian girl who gets locked up in a psych institution. wow.


message 7: by Wilhelmina (last edited Aug 02, 2009 10:18PM) (new)

Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
I was quite confused as to the ethnicity of the characters, but, as everyone has said, it's the interconnectedness that is the point of the story. That being said, I felt that some of the stories worked better than others. I couldn't quite buy the story of the cult, possibly because I didn't get any feel for Billy's magnetic hold on his followers.

Here's the NYT review of this book:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/boo...


message 6: by jo (last edited Aug 02, 2009 09:33PM) (new)

jo | 805 comments Mod
well said, rashaan! this novel is so much about interconnectedness, you cannot pull a thread without taking the whole story with you.

i would like to rectify rashida's statement and say that, if i understand things correctly, the characters of the novel divide between full-blooded indian and half-indian. i think maybe we could do something with this, but right now i'm not sure what.

i like the way in which erdrich eschews the traditional indian-novel "genre," or what we have come to expect as such, with reservations and dances etc., and depicts these folks as having as varied and multifaceted lives as folks everywhere in america. this is not an indian novel but an american novel -- maybe a novel about the cold northern plains but certainly not a novel about exclusively "indian" experiences.

i also like the way it goes back and forth in history, and the way in which following the plot would require charting and mapping beyond what the ordinary reader, i suspect, is willing to do. toni morrison's paradise does some of the same, but she takes some pains to chart things for us. erdrich seems to have no such concern. so, after a bit, i simply stopped worrying. i took each story as a sort of self-contained short story or novella, but also, as rashaan said, as a short story that connected to a larger interwoven story.

as for the mystery, isn't it a red herring after all? it doesn't explain anything!


Rashaan  | 2 comments Great questions, Rashida. What I love about Erdrich's writing, and Plague of Doves is a seamless example of this, is her magical weaving of narratives. Your questions, combined, address this. The narratives are woven together to reflect both similarities and differences. If we try to pluck one thread such as the Ojibwe experience, we see that its innately tied to the German history of the land. If we try to pull Billy from his place, we end up dragging his family and those lives he's influenced into the fore as well. No one and no story can really be individualized. The relationships are really the heart of the matter. Whether these relationships, narratives, and characters are harmonious or discordant in their union, they wouldn't exist unless in connection to one another.


Rashida | 264 comments Happy August! Looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on this book. What immediately drew me in was Erdrich's language. The beauty she uses in describing even ordinary things struck me throughout. For instance, during a storm "bras corkscrewed around the wooden pins and lines." Isn't that exactly what they do?

A question I have for us to discuss: Was it immediately clear to you which characters were Native and which were white? Did it matter to you? Do you think there was some distinguishable difference in experiences between the two groups, or as the generations passed and they intermarried, was there an inevitable sameness?

What did you think of the different storylines? From the Peace Brothers, to Evelina's life, to Marne Wolde's life with Billy, to the "mystery" at the heart of it all? Did they blend well to one novel, or were they too different to fit together?

That's just a start. will check back in as others comment.


Rashaan  | 2 comments I read this book as soon as it came out and loved every paragraph and sentence. I was privileged enough to see Erdrich read on her tour of the release. She's warm, funny, wise, and poetic. I'm so happy to find your group is embracing such a wonderfully talented and magical artist!


Jaree Francis (MetraCity) | 2 comments I just picked up the book yesterday. Interesting descriptions. Look 4ward to the discussion...


Wilhelmina | 1557 comments Mod
The polls are closed, and the winning book for August is The Plague of Doves A Novel by Louise Erdrich. Our discussion of this book will begin on August 1.


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The Plague of Doves (other topics)
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Louise Erdrich (other topics)