It goes without saying that 2020 has not been a great year. Between a pandemic and the struggle for racial justice, it becomes increasingly difficult to find things to be thankful for. Gratitude becomes even more challenging, though, upon learning of the myths surrounding our holiday of appreciation. Without going too far into the conversation of those myths, let us simply acknowledge that the first Thanksgiving feast was not as simple as a coming together of two peoples. In reality, it is a reminder of great loss to the Wampanoag Tribe by way of disease and war, resulting in the Pilgrims arriving at a position of power above the Wampanoag people.
With that being said, let us take the opportunity, this year especially, to turn our attention to the other side of that narrative – to that of Native people. For this week’s TBT, we will be focusing on Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa. Erdrich focuses her writing around Native American life, including accurate portrayals of Chippewa traditions and painfully eye-opening details of the treatment of Native people by white people. An essayist for Contemporary Novelists said of her, “Erdrich’s accomplishment is that she is weaving a body of work that goes beyond portraying contemporary Native American life as descendants of a politically dominated people to explore the great universal questions—questions of identity, pattern versus randomness, and the meaning of life itself.”
Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, with her work being compared to that of Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, and John Steinbeck. She is also one of the most influential writers of the Native American Renaissance, a description of the “explosion of literature created after the 1960s by Native American writers of fiction,” according to nativeamericanlit.com.
As much as I could praise Erdrich myself, there are two quotes I think wrap up her writing perfectly that I would like to reference instead. The New York Times said of her writing, “Erdrich has an extraordinary ability to delineate the ties of love, resentment, need, duty, and sympathy that bind families together.” The Boston Globe also wrote “Erdrich is a writer of splendid complications and digressions. She is also a writer of stunning prose.”
The book that got me into her writing was her 2012 novel, The Roundhouse, but Love Medicine was Erdrich’s very first novel, published in 1984. It depicts two families, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines, the ties that bind them together, and all of the ups and downs the two families have gone through over the years. The portrayal of Chippewa beliefs is what gives the novel its name, as it gives way to a major shift in the novel and creates the lasting tie between Marie Kashpaw and Lulu Lamartine. The novel floats between romance, betrayal, comedy, murder, and magic, all through Erdrich’s poetic style of writing. Toni Morrison said of the novel, “The beauty of Love Medicine is the work of a tough, loving mind.”
In addition to her debut novel, you can also look into reading her most recent release, The Night Watchman, which was published this past March.