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Perma Red

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  649 ratings  ·  85 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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Pamela J. Peters The title is a derogatory name about being from the area and "red" was a reference to "redskin" Perma Red as Harvey told Louise, "that is what "they" …moreThe title is a derogatory name about being from the area and "red" was a reference to "redskin" Perma Red as Harvey told Louise, "that is what "they" call you." said it as a way to hurt her.(less)

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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  649 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women
This is not a beautiful, uplifting story. This book is sorrow. It's one of the best things I've ever read.

Magpie Earling's writing is somehow lush and spare at the same time. She evokes moments and scenes so well, it felt like coming out of a dream when I put the book down.

(view spoiler)
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
A friend had to loan me her copy of this wonderful novel because I could not find a copy. That's a shame. There are literary novels and there are plot driven novels. Those that are both are rare. Earling's novel exists in that rare air.

Perma Red is the heart-breaking but hope-filled story of an unusual and independent and confused young girl, Louise, on a reservation in the 1940s. The conflict between Louise and herself, her native heritage, and the broken men who love her is wrenching and real
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. I enjoyed the characters that she built but, the story just never really built for me. I just never really got invested in the characters and their relationships with each other.
Perma Red was just voted Favorite Book by Montanans in 2019. It's easy to see why. It embodies the soul of the Native American community on the Flathead Lake in the Salish-Kootenai Reservation.
Louise White Elk is a poor young woman who endures the prejudice of the white community. She is a wild child, tormenting the nuns at the mission school - and in return - being tormented by them. She is taken away from her grandmother, her lodestone, and her sister, Florence, countless times to be fostered
Deena Metzger
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Deena by: Melissa Kwasny
Sometimes i wish one could offer more than five stars. This is one of these moments. Debra Magpie Earling is a major writer. She has managed to infuse English with the values and perceptions inherent in Native American culture, even though English is the language of the Conquest and the Conquest was made possible through the language. Even though Earling is fiercely honest about the ways Native American people are still suffering the violence and brutality of American culture and politics, the b ...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
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Chris Allan
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Often a book is great for us because it shows us people and life that are not us, that we haven't experienced, that let us live in someone else's skin for a while. This was one of those. I couldn't identify with the characters, in fact couldn't really understand why they did what they did, but that was the reason to read this -- to remind you that not not everyone's like you ...more
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully and brutally written. One of my new favorites. I can't stop thinking about it. ...more
Della Johnson
This was a very good book written in 2002 about people living on a modern day Indian reservation called Flatbed Indian Reservation . It's an emotional deep thinking book where you see what is in the character's mind in vivid and deep detail. Its actually a love story with a lot of tragedy.

One thing I realized by reading this book is I never knew people in modern time could be so very poor and starving. The description of the homes in the book is heartbreaking that someone would live in such cond
Hanna Ziegler
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: serious-reads
You know those books that you read that stick with you for days? Weeks? Months? Things about them just keep coming back to you: lines that you loved, moments of profundity that knocked you off your proverbial feet, similarities in your own life, and the general awareness that the book is always on your mind. This is one of those books for me. Clearly a labor of love, it was beautifully crafted from cover to cover, engaging all the senses and actively challenging the reader. It's an absolutely ha ...more
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-riot
This is a story about several Natives on a reservation, all entwined by bonds of love or blood. There's Louise, who has a gravity to her, drawing men's attention, though she quite often suffers for it, as these men see her as a possession and not a person. There's Baptiste, who has powerful medicine, they say, and struggles with his inner demons. There's Charlie, who is part and apart as a police officer, treated as less than by the whites, but still not quite the same as the other natives.

Brenda Schilling
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
One minute I would like this story, and the next not so much. At times I thought the writing really nice, and then too MFAish. And it just seemed to drag along. Did it want to be a little magical realist, or protest literature. I just couldn't get a handle on things, to choose the person I wanted to root for or against. Perhaps it was meant to be complicated. I also seem to dislike multiple narrators. I think many readers will enjoy it, but it lost me, sadly. ...more
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written in a style sometimes spare, sometimes lush, Perma Red tells the story of a young native woman on the Flathead Reservation of Montana who is violently pursued by three men--white, native, mixed--driven to possess her. Magpie Earling describes both the landscapes and dreamscapes with intense and loving observation, while vividly portraying the abject poverty and brutality that saturates the main character's life. ...more
Marta-Kate Jackson
I'm still unpacking this one and it's growing on me from my initial "meh." Most reviewers characterize it as "heartbreaking and hopeful," but I didn't feel much hope. The main character goes in constant, frustrating, and painful circles which left me wanting to give up on it multiple times. That said, the characters get under your skin and despite being set in the 1940s, there's a timeless quality to it. I still can't decide if I want to give it 4 stars or 2, so we'll go with 3. ...more
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
From geography to race/class disparities, this book gives you a vivid picture of life on a reservation in the early 20th Century. I suspect some, if not many, of the details and themes explored in the book still ring true.

Beautifully written. If I could, I’d ask the author why she excluded Baptiste as a narrator and included Charlie.
Sep 19, 2020 added it
It's hard to rate a book when the metric is whether/how much I liked it. Perma Red is a beautifully written book that tells the brutal story of a native American woman. The woman, Louise, is beautiful, intelligent, fiercely independent. The story is violent and heartbreaking and rings all too true. I couldn't finish it. ...more

• Baptiste, has sight (4)—Louise’s grandmother: “He is the last of our old ones, and he is dangerous.”—Why Baptiste and his mother Dirty Swallow mean Louise and her family ill (4)
• Louise avoiding Baptiste: “All her focus, all of her attentions had been and were still directed toward him. Ignoring him had only made him more present in her life.” (11) sexual energy between them (12-13)
• “But she had no way of knowing if she ran toward or away from him. Baptiste was everywhere.” (1
Erin Clark
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-my-library
A truly beautiful tormentingly sad novel. I loved it even in all it's sorrow. Louise is such a finely drawn character with strength from within that even she doesn't completely understand. This novel took me in and broke my heart - and then gave me hope. Highly recommended. ...more
Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
An intense and compelling story. Not a cheerful tale with a happy ending, but well worth the read.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Beautiful, poetic writing, brutal storyline, some gorgeous set peices, but it never congeals into a compelling whole.
Anna Marie
Very strange story about love, desire, power, and hate.
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, place
A story about poverty and loss, violence and the cold of Montana winter.
Brutal and unsparing.
North Idaho College Molstead Library Reads
Rarely has a book made me feel so conflicted and captivated by the characters. Easily one of my favorite novels.

Reviewed by: Lisa Kellerman, Reference & Instruction Librarian
Robin Ferguson
Dec 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting aspect of Reservation life in the forties... but eh... it was okay.
Joseph Delgado
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is what fiction is! Delicious. Full-bodied. A great story.
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Debra Cecille Magpie Earling is a Native American novelist (Bitterroot Salish tribe), and short story writer. She is the author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, which was on display at the Missoula Museum of Art in late 2011. Her work has also appeared in Ploughshares and the Northeast Indian Quarterly.

She is a graduate of the University of Washington, and holds both an MA in Engli

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