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Returning to Earth

(True North #2)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,829 ratings  ·  191 reviews
Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “a master … who makes the ordinary extraordinary, the unnamable unforgettable,” beloved author Jim Harrison returns with a masterpiece—a tender, profound, and magnificent novel about life, death, and finding redemption in unlikely places. Slowly dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Donald, a middle-aged Chippewa-Finnish man, begins ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published January 5th 2007 by Grove Press (first published 2007)
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A very satisfying read of an extended family in the Michigan Upper Peninsula finding their way through woods of life. Harrison is among a handful of American novelists I most appreciate for a capacity to elucidate the interplay of the individual and collective sources of meaning in existence. Likely many potential readers have encountered Harrison through the movie version of his novella “Legends of the Fall”. Common elements here include a big focus on evoking a sense of a particular place and ...more
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The more I think about this book, the more I like it. Ever since my Mom passed away last year I consistently hear comments like, "she's looking down and smiling," which I can't stand. It's so refreshing to read a novel that has a non-Christian view of grief. As it turns out, being part of a family is as amorphous as grief, and Harrison's stream-of-consciousness writing style allowed the characters to shape their stories one mosaic tile at a time. There are plenty of well-written passages, and I ...more
Nov 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Middle-aged man dying of Lou Gehrig's disease wants his family to help him end his life. The consequences of that decision for his family and assorted relatives take up most of the book. Broken into four sections, the novel reads like a series of linked novellas (not surprising, given Harrison's great success with that form). Though lyrically written and poignant at times, overall I found this book to be somewhat disappointing. I've read several other of Harrison's books -- Farmer, Warlock, ...more
Oct 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
I just finished this book and so many different thoughts are racing through my mind. My first action will be to pick it up and read it again. At the crux of the book is a character, Donald, who is dying and trying to depart his story on to his future generations. It is told in four parts each by a different charachter and this only adds to the depth and vision of the circumstances of Donald's life. It is a poignant reminder that we do not live on the earth alone and with joy comes pain but it is ...more
Grace Tenkay
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lyrical and at times dark. I put this book aside a few times just to let the story gel a bit, then I'd resume it. Harrison was a gift to readers. I will keep this one in my library for a long time.
Dec 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was the first read of my recent vacation, and while it's not exactly a beach read for sure, as the novel centers around the assisted suicide of a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, the quirky characters kept me interested enough to stay engrossed despite the soft sand and blue skies and water. (Wait, is this a review of the book or of my fabulous vacation? ;-) The novel is told from the inside perspective of 4 characters--the dying man, his nephew, his brother-in-law and finally, his ...more
RH Walters
Jun 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
A passionate earthy man orchestrates his own poetic death. The first half of the book is perfect. A character named Flower is barely part of the story yet her shrewd, mystical, semi-feral lifestyle haunts my imagination.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't life-changing, but was a great, quick read. The writing style was different (very stream-of-consciousness) and I enjoyed it. I grew to love the family in the book and didn't want to leave them at the end!
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. Another classic from the great Jim Harrison.
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful and made me sad that Jim Harrison is no longer with us writing books that are seemingly simple but majestic and filled with "truths".
Aug 11, 2009 rated it liked it
If I had known that this book centered around the death of a loved one, I would not have picked it up. As it was, I only chose it because it was the only thing on the shelf by Harrison and I was looking for "Legends of the Fall." The book is about Donald's death and the way it affects the lives of his wife, daughter, and other family members. For me, it was beyond mundane at some points. I mean, I know death has every day repercussions, but some of it was just a bit too tedious for me. There ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Sometimes the right book falls into your hands at the right time. This book is one long musing on death. One of the characters (I hesitate to call him the main character, though his spirit dominates), dies from a terminal illness. His family deals with the loss, but in not necessarily typical ways. I also have a family member who has a terminal illness - I hesitated to read this. Glad I did. The straightforward approach to death and the possibilities of an after life were refreshing. As always, ...more
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
okay, i'm going to come clean about a very un-PC trait of mine: i have an aesthetic aversion to native american culture. it just rubs me the wrong way in film, book, what have you. i'm officially sorry. and, officially, i can't help it.

that made this book all the more surprising. this sensitive and absorbing story of a father's death and the impact it has on those close to him is ingeniously told from the point of view of five of the story's characters in separate, discrete sections that move
Ben Laussade
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: bears, crows, deer
I've heretofore been skeptical of authors writing more than one novel with the same set of characters, but no longer. That's what Jim Harrison does sometimes. This time included.

'Returning to Earth' is sublime. It is in four parts, each part narrated from a different perspective. At the end of each part, you strongly regret leaving the character who is narrating, and 10 pages into the next part, you have forgotten all about it. Most writers can't come up with one attractive and realistic voice
Jul 24, 2007 rated it liked it
This book got a glowing review in the New York Times book review, so I didn't think I could go too far wrong. Once I started it I almost abandoned it, but since it was summer and I had the time, I finished it. I respect this book but I didn't like it. Can't say exactly what was off--it just didn't sing.
Aug 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, audiobooks
Audio was a little hard to follow, so I got the hard copy to read along. I don't think I would have made it through the hard copy without the audio either, but an interesting book I'm glad to have read.
Orrin Laferte
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the second story in a two part saga about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Patterson has a great affection for Native Americans and a clear grasp of the dynamics of well to do dysfunctional families. He intertwines these themes expertly in this work
Jul 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good! This is a well written book with complex characters and a sense of spirituality that flows well.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is my 5th Jim Harrison novel, and I'm happy I read True North before reading this one. I see that Goodreads calls it True North #2, but I did not see that until after finishing Returning to Earth.
The story is told in four sections, each in the first person voice of a major character. The first section is narrated by Donald, a half-Chippewa, half-Finn resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He's married to Cynthia, who acts as scribe while Donald tells his story. He's motivated to tell of
Eric Sutton
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
A typical Jim Harrison rant about all things existential: love, fate, the afterlife, myth, work, identity, locale...the list goes on. He has an uncanny ability to transition between linear narrative and singular memory, interspersing poignant life maxims throughout. Returning to Earth is an extension of True North, an earlier novel that reads as an historical account of the Burkett's family's exploitation of Upper Peninsula timber and the resulting fallout, both psychological and familial. This ...more
Gary Lindsay
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Returning to Earth revolves around the death of a middle-aged, Chippewa - Finnish man from Lou Gehrig's Disease and its effects on his family. The title is a reference to Donald's view of death, but it also applies in a more figurative sense to the other voices that narrate this tale, a step-cousin (K for Kenneth), Donald's brother David and his wife / widow Cynthia.

Quickly declining from his disease, Donald chooses the means, place and time of his death. These choices reveal his religious
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Uh-oh. If this is one of Harrison's 'finest novels', I will probably not be able to make a comparison as I doubt there will be another of his works for me. To be honest, I did enjoy his prose and descriptive passages, but if there is such a thing as 'run-on paragraphs' he's a master at it because the beginning of the paragraph often had little in common with the middle or the end, and this meandering makes for a difficult read.
I found roughly the first half of the book more enjoyable as Donald
Preston Stell
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I'm hooked on Jim author who can write an incredible book on food but also a moving novel written about death from four perspectives. I could have read novel length book's by Donald, K, David, or Cynthia and been extremely pleased by the end of them. I am left wishing I could hear more from each of their voices, but isn't that one of the many effects of death, no longer being able to hear from them any longer. I can't wait to read my next Jim Harrison novel. This is a ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Regarding ALS, a dreadful disease in an Indian's life. His family and their pain regarding his care. The historical and cultural influences of this native American and the changes surrounding the lifestyle and his community. This story reveals the need for respect for an alternative religion along with what values this creates in not only this man, but anyone who has shared a relationship. This type of love is remarkable and holds a new and possible avenue for not only those in the story to ...more
Mike Bloom
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A "sequel" of sorts to Harrison's True North. This, IMHO, is a better book. The narrative--an accessible stream-of-consciousness told from the perspective of four different narrators--seems more straightforward than True North, making this novel, for me, more enjoyable.
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Harrison is a master. This was my least favorite of his I have read so far-which is to say I liked it. The only problem was it was quite depressing.

Harrison is a giant. Read all of him you can.

Also R.I.P.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was my first Harrison read. Written about real life, real pain of death and loss and dealing with the after effects. Very well written. Looking forward to exploring more of Harrison's talent.
Marianne Reninger
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! So beautifully written. “The world seemed unacceptably temporary including love.” As The NY Times book review said this book is “quietly magnificent.”
Sep 02, 2018 rated it liked it
The second half of the book really didn’t keep my attention.
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Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants

Other books in the series

True North (2 books)
  • True North
“[...] I finally understood that death and numbers don't cohere. Everyone is 'one.' An accident report might say that nine died, four of them in their teens, but each death was 'one.' Each of six million Jews was 'one.' With death it is a series of 'ones.” 3 likes
“I've been lucky to spend a life pretty close to the earth up here in the north. I learned in those three days that the earth is so much more than I ever thought it was. It was a gift indeed to see all sides of everything at once. This makes it real hard to say good-bye. My family will be with me just like that old raven falling slowly down through the tree.” 2 likes
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