The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

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Over the years, Father Damian has seen the reservation through its most severe crises, yet he is more than an heroic priest. He has lived and serviced the Ojibwa people as a man of the cloth, and also as a woman. Now, nearing the end of his life, he dreads discovery. His quietly devout life changes when a troubled colleague comes to the reservation scrutinizing the life of his lifelong nemesis, Sister Leopolds, considering her for sainthood. Father Damian knows the strange truth of her existence. When he is ...
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Overview

Over the years, Father Damian has seen the reservation through its most severe crises, yet he is more than an heroic priest. He has lived and serviced the Ojibwa people as a man of the cloth, and also as a woman. Now, nearing the end of his life, he dreads discovery. His quietly devout life changes when a troubled colleague comes to the reservation scrutinizing the life of his lifelong nemesis, Sister Leopolds, considering her for sainthood. Father Damian knows the strange truth of her existence. When he is called upon to prove or disprove her sainthood, he faces the greatest challenge of his life. Where does fact end and reality begin? And how does one tell it? As he searches for the answer, he must wrestle with demons from his past, memories that haunt him—and the secret of his own identity in his revelatory Last report to the Pope.

Moving and lyrical, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a powerful new work from one of contemporary literature's brightest stars, whose "writing has the luster and sheen of poetry, each sentence circling deeper into emotion, motivations, and rationale."(Los Angeles Times).

About the Author:
Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota and is of German-American and Chippewa descent. She is the author of five previous novels, the first of which, Love Medicine, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her short fiction has twice won the National Magazine Award and had been included in the O. Henry and Best America collections several times.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In her critically acclaimed novels, award-winning author Louise Erdrich delves deeply into the contentious duality of her German-American and Turtle Mountain Ojibwe heritage to illuminate the stories of Native American families. Spanning the 20th century from 1910 to 1996, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse centers on the triune figure of Father Damien Modeste -- born Agnes DeWitt, entered holy orders as Sister Cecilia, baptized and reborn to the priesthood in a body-and-soul-cleansing flood. True to the promise of the title, miracles do abound in this epic tale, not the least of which is the surprising and affecting poetry of Erdrich's prose. But there are subtler miracles recorded in Father Damien's long and voluminous correspondence -- or, more appropriately, "reports" -- to the Holy See, miracles that raise discomforting questions about the nature of faith, sainthood, and the role of the church in the unraveling of Native American cultures.

When at last the Vatican does send an envoy to the tiny North Dakota reservation, it is not the longed-for response to Father Damien's epistles but rather a canonical inquiry, a "speculation regarding the Blessedness" of one Sister Leopolda Puyat. A demanding and often cruel taskmaster in life, in death Sister Leopolda has been credited with an ever increasing number of intercessions -- from record honey harvests to the spontaneous remission of incurable diseases. Now more than 100 years old, the Tiresius-like Father Damien alone knows the disturbing truth about Sister Leopolda. But in revealing the mortal secrets that have long bound their lives together, he risks exposing his own great lie -- "the true lie...the most sincere lie a person could tell" -- and undoing a lifetime of service to his church and to his congregation.

Although at times marred by the sort of meandering digressions and haphazard plotting that have always been Erdrich's weakness, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse ultimately succeeds on the strength of its ecstatic prose, unforgettable characterizations, and compassionate portrayal of the human tragicomedy. (Greg Marrs)

Verlyn Klinkenborg
[B]eguiling . . . Erdrich takes us farther back in time than she ever has, so far back that she comes, in a sense, to the edge of the reservation that has been her fictional world.
New York Times Book Review
Thomas Curwen
Messy, ribald, deeply tragic, preposterous and heartfelt, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a love story, and what shine most brilliantly through its pages are Erdrich's intelligence and compassion. Let the world shake, buckle, storm and burn. Let the people suffer, as they will. It is our connections to the past and the future, through families and connections to kin, that grant us our saintliness and our transcendent power.
Los Angeles Times
Elle
Spellbinding…profoundly moving.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
What shines most brilliantly through its pages are Erdrich's intelligence and compassion.
Boston Sunday Globe
Lyrical ... a lavishly written, diffusely plotted novel about the passion - both religious and carnal - of Father Damien.
USA Today
[Erdrich's] best so far. ... told with such cleverness and compassion that the effect is nothing less than dazzling.
Wall Street Journal
Funny, engrossing and revelatory.
Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine
You will be dazzled by the poetry of her language and her lightening-like illuminations of the human condition.
St. Paul Star-Tribune
A magnificent storyteller ... delivering musical prose charged by powerful metaphors.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Stunning ...a moving meditation ... infused with mystery and wonder.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bold and imaginative.
Michiko Kakutani
A deeply affecting narrative … by turns comical and elegiac, farcical and tragic. —New York Times
Los Angeles Times Book Review
What shines most brilliantly through its pages are Erdrich's intelligence and compassion.
USA Today
[Erdrich's] best so far. … told with such cleverness and compassion that the effect is nothing less than dazzling.
Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine
You will be dazzled by the poetry of her language and her lighteninglike illuminations of the human condition.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Stunning …a moving meditation … infused with mystery and wonder.
Boston Sunday Globe
Lyrical … a lavishly written, diffusely plotted novel about the passion - both religious and carnal - of Father Damien.
Wall Street Journal
Funny, engrossing and revelatory.
St. Paul Star-Tribune
A magnificent storyteller … delivering musical prose charged by powerful metaphors.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bold and imaginative.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Erdrich seems to be inhabiting her characters, so intense and viscerally rendered are her portrayals. Her prose shimmers: a piano being carried across the plains is "an ebony locust." This novel will be remembered for a cornucopia of set pieces, all bizarre and stunning: wounded and taken hostage by a bank robber and pinned to the running board of his Overland automobile, Agnes, "her leg a flare of blood," briefly touches hands with her astonished lover as the car crosses his path; old man Nanapush, impaled on fish hooks that pin him to a boat that's hitched to the antlers of a wounded moose, careens through the woods in delirious exhaustion. Writing with subtle compassion and magical imagination, Erdrich has done justice to the complexities of existence in general and Native American life in particular. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Erdrich returns to a world created through the last dozen years and five novels to view a century's worth of Ojibwe suffering via the letters and memoirs of Father Damien Modeste. One major surprise of the book is revealed right at the start as the elderly priest is revealed to be a woman, but other mysteries of faith and sainthood are explored in "his" letters and richly detailed flashbacks. The twists and turns of gender, belief, and love are woven through beautifully crafted passages filled with deep sorrow and loss. Erdrich's focus is as much on the physical as the divine in the evolving conflicts between church and mysticism, history and legend, and truth and faith. The question of whether Sister Leopolda deserves to be a saint may be the storyteller's quest, but the tale's ultimate resonance is the tragic strength of its characters. Narrator Anna Fields may tend to rush from section to section, but she handles the complexity of changing voices and identities well. A sad and difficult work; recommended. Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The North Dakota world of interrelated Native American families that Erdrich has shaped into a myth of Faulknerian proportions is once again the province of her extraordinary sixth novel: a worthy companion to such triumphs as Love Medicine (1993) and The Antelope Wife (1998). The action covers a span of nearly 90 years, and focuses primarily on two dramatic figures: "Sister Leopolda" Puyat, who has performed "miracles" of service at the Little No Horse Ojibwa reservation; and "Father Damien" Modeste, the resident priest who is actually Agnes De Witt: common-law wife of a murdered German immigrant farmer, lover of Chopin, and "Virgin of the Serpents," among other manifestations. Erdrich takes huge risks in this boldly imagined novel's early pages, which are replete with complicated exposition, while slowly building narrative and thematic bridges linking the aforementioned characters with figures familiar from her earlier fiction: stoical Fleur Pillager and her estranged, doomed children; mischief-making Gerry Nanapush, comforted and tormented by his several wives (not to mention a terrified moose, in a hilarious tall tale that's in itself a minor classic); Father Damien's stolid housekeeper (and keeper of "his" secret) Mary Kashpaw; and a very many others. Erdrich revisits and hovers over her people, recording their experiences and words and dreams, observing them from multiple perspectives and in various contexts. The result is a remarkably convincing portrayal of Native American life throughout this century-with the added dimension of an exactingly dramatized and deeply moving experience of spiritual conflict and crisis. The question of Sister Leopolda(aparagon of charity who may also have been a murderer) is posed unforgettably: "What weighs more, the death or the wonder?" And the passion of Father Damien, which climaxes with a gravely beautiful pilgrimage, is, throughout the story, a wonder to behold. Comparisons to Willa Cather (particularly her Death Comes for the Archbishop) as well as Faulkner now seem perfectly just. That's how good Erdrich has become.
Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine
"You will be dazzled by the poetry of her language and her lighteninglike illuminations of the human condition."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Bold and imaginative."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Stunning …a moving meditation … infused with mystery and wonder."
USA Today
“[Erdrich’s] best so far…told with such cleverness and compassion that the effect is nothing less than dazzling.”
Elle
“Spellbinding…profoundly moving.”
St. Paul Star-Tribune
"A magnificent storyteller … delivering musical prose charged by powerful metaphors."
Wall Street Journal
"Funny, engrossing and revelatory."
Michiko Kakutani
“A deeply affecting narrative . . . by turns comical and elegiac, farcical, and tragic.”
Elle
“Spellbinding…profoundly moving.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060931223
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich was born Karen Louise Erdrich June 7 (one source says July 6), 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota,United States; daughter of Ralph Louis (a teacher with the Bureau of Indian Affairs) and RitaJoanne (affiliated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs; maiden name, Gourneau) Erdrich. She married Michael Anthony Dorris, a writer and professor of Native American studies, (died April 11, 1997) on October 10, 1981. She has six children: Reynold Abel (died in 1991), Jeffrey Sava, Madeline Hannah, Persia Andromeda, Pallas Antigone, Aza Marion.

Erdrich attended Dartmouth College, B.A., 1976; Johns Hopkins University, M.A., 1979. She is a writer. Erdrich worked for North Dakota State Arts Council, visiting poet and teacher, 1977-78; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, writing instructor, 1978-79; Boston Indian Council, Boston, MA, communications director and editor of The Circle, 1979-80; Charles-Merrill Co., textbook writer, 1980. She was previously employed as a beet weeder in Wahpeton, ND; waitress in Wahpeton, Boston, and Syracuse, NY; psychiatric aide in a Vermont hospital; poetry teacher at prisons; lifeguard; and construction flag signaler. Erdrich has judged writing contests.

Biography

Award-winning novelist Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, the oldest of seven children born to a Chippewa mother and a father of German-American descent. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976 and Johns Hopkins University in 1979, supporting herself with a variety of jobs, including lifeguard, waitress, teacher, and construction flag signaler. She began her literary career as a poet and short story writer and won awards in both fields.

In the late 1970s, Erdrich began a unique collaboration with Michael Dorris, a Native American writer and teacher she met at Dartmouth and married in 1981. In a creative partnership that endured throughout most of their 14-year marriage, each writer exerted a profound influence on the other's work. Although their names appear in tandem on the cover of only two books, Route Two (1990) and The Crown of Columbus (1991), literally everything either one produced during this time was a collaborative effort. In 1995, after a series of tragic setbacks, the couple separated; two years later, Dorris committed suicide.

From the beginning, Erdrich has translated her mixed blood ancestry into chronicles of astonishing power and range. Her bestselling debut novel, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Love Medicine, is a series of interrelated stories about several generations of Chippewas living on or near a North Dakota reservation. Spanning most of the 20th century, the book dispenses with any sort of chronological time line and borrows narrative conventions from Native American oral tradition. Several subsequent novels pick up characters, incidents, and narrative threads from Love Medicine to form an interconnected story cycle.

In her novels, Erdrich explores complex issues of family, personal identity, and cultural survival among full- and mixed-blood Native Americans, delving into mythology and tradition to extract what is both specific and universal. She has been known to rework material, incorporating short stories into long fiction, rewriting, and revising constantly. She continues to write poetry and is the author of several children's books, as well as a memoir of early motherhood and a travel book. She is also a founder of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis, where she now lives.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louise Karen Erdrich (full name; pronounced "air-drik")
    2. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 7, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Little Falls, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

Read an Excerpt

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
A Novel Chapter One Naked Woman Playing Chopin

1910-1912

Eighty-some years previous, through a town that was to flourish and past a farm that would disappear, the river slid—all that happened began with that flow of water. The town on its banks was very new and its main street was a long curved road that followed the will of a muddy river full of brush, silt, and oxbows that threw the whole town off the strict clean grid laid out by railroad plat. The river flooded each spring and dragged local backyards into its roil, even though the banks were strengthened with riprap and piled high with rocks torn from reconstructed walls and foundations. It was a hopelessly complicated river, one that froze deceptively, broke rough, drowned one or two every year in its icy run. it was a dead river in some places, one that harbored only carp and bullheads. Wild in others, it lured moose down from Canada into the town limits. When the land along its banks was newly broken, paddleboats and barges of grain moved grandly from its source to Winnipeg, for the river flowed inscrutably north. Across from what would become church land and the town park, over on the Minnesota side, a farm spread generously up and down the river and back into wide hot fields.

The bonanza farm belonged to easterners who had sold a foundry in Vermont and with their money bought the flat vastness that lay along the river. They raised astounding crops when the land was young—rutabagas that weighed sixty pounds, wheat unbearably lush, corn on cobs like truncheons. Then six grasshopper years occurred during which even the handleson the hoes and rakes were eaten and a U.S. cavalry soldier, too, partially devoured while he lay drunk in the insects' path. The enterprise suffered losses on a grand scale. The farm was split among four brothers, eventually, who then sold off half each so that by the time Berndt Vogel escaped the latest war of Europe, during which he'd been chopped mightily but inconclusively in six places by a lieutenant's saber and then kicked by a horse so ever after his jaw didn't shut right, there was just one beautiful and peaceful swatch of land about to go for grabs. In the time it would take for him to gather the money—by forswearing women, drinking cheap beers only, and working twenty-hour days—to retrieve it from the local bank, the price of that farm would drop further, further, and the earth rise up in a great ship of destruction. Sails of dust carried half of Berndt's lush dirt over the horizon, but enough remained for him to plant and reap six fields.

So Berndt survived. On his land there stood a hangarlike barn that once had housed teams of great blue Percherons and Belgian draft horses. Only one horse was left, old and made of brutal velvet, but the others still moved in the powerful synchronicity of his dreams. Berndt liked to work in the heat of this horse's breath. The vast building echoed and only one small part was still in use-housing a cow, chickens, one depressed pig. Berndt kept the rest in decent repair not only because as a good German he must waste nothing that had come his way but because he saw in those grand dust-filled shafts of light something he could worship.

The spirit of the farm was there in the lost breath of horses. He fussed over the one remaining mammoth and imagined one day his farm entire, vast and teeming, crews of men under his command, a cookhouse, bunkhouse, equipment, a woman and children sturdily determined to their toil. A garden in which seeds bearing the scented pinks and sharp red geraniums of his childhood were planted and thrived.

How surprised he was to find, one morning, as though sown by the wind and summoned by his dreams, a woman standing barefoot, starved, and frowzy in the doorway of his barn. She was pale but sturdy, angular, a strong flower, very young, nearly bald and dressed in a rough shift. He blinked stupidly at the vision. Light poured around her like smoke and swirled at her gesture of need. She spoke with a low, gravelly abruptness: "Ich habe Hunger."

By the way she said it, he knew she was a Swabian and thereforehe tried to thrust the thought from his mind-possessing certain unruly habits in bed. She continued to speak, her voice husky and bossy. He passed his hand across his eyes. Through the gown of nearly transparent muslin he could see that her breasts were, excitingly, bound tight to her chest with strips of cloth. He blinked hard. Looking directly into her eyes, he experienced the vertigo of confronting a female who did not blush or look away but held him with an honest human calm. He thought at first she must be a loose woman, fleeing a brothel—had Fargo got so big? Or escaping an evil marriage, perhaps. He didn't know she was from God.

Sister Cecilia

In the center of the town on the other side of the river there stood a convent made of yellow bricks. Hauled halfway across Minnesota from Little Falls brickworks by pious drivers, they still held the peculiar sulfurous moth gold of the clay outside that town. The word Fleisch was etched in shallow letters on each one. Fleisch Company Brickworks. Donated to the nuns at cost. The word, of course, was covered by mortar each time a brick was laid. Because she had organized a few discarded bricks behind the convent into the base for a small birdbath, the youngest nun knew, as she gazed at the mute order of the convent's wall, that she lived within the secret repetition of that one word...

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
A Novel
. Copyright (c) by Louise Erdrich . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

The Complicated Life of Louise Erdrich
From the May-June 2001 issue of Book magazine.

In the past year alone, Louise Erdrich completed one novel, nearly finished another, opened a bookstore and, at forty-six, gave birth to a daughter named Azure. When Erdrich walks into her Minneapolis store, Birch Bark Books, Herbs and Native Arts, she is juggling an armful of paper and books and passing out chocolate tins with pictures of Elvis Presley and the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew on top. She adjusts Azure, who's ready to be fed. "Overdoing it is my motto," she announces. "I'm one of those overdoing-it mothers."

Motherhood isn't the only area where Erdrich overachieves. She's published nine books of fiction, two volumes of poetry, two children's books, a book of essays, and numerous short stories and poems. Her work is recognized for its complexity and for its poetic, touching, gently sarcastic, and humorous voice. Erdrich delves into how Native and European American cultures come together, clash, fall apart and, at times, figure each other out and learn to love. Showing compassion for all her characters -- no matter what their weaknesses or sins, of which they tend to have a multitude -- she often writes stories with more than one point of view. She did so masterfully in her first and best-known book, Love Medicine, and she does so -- again, masterfully -- in the new one, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Lyrically reflective, wittily refracted, and adeptly sensual, the story centers on Agnes DeWitt, who, because of a series of passions and events, lives most of her life as Father Damien Modeste, a mission priest on an Indian reservation between 1912 and 1996. The Last Report -- the sixth in a series of Erdrich books to focus on two families in Argus, a fictional Red River Valley reservation town along the Minnesota-North Dakota border -- is as thoroughly imbued with a challenging kind of spirituality as it is graced with an intriguing story.

Rich and complex as Erdrich's writing is, her life matches it for intensity and involvement -- and she wouldn't have it any other way. "I only enjoy life if it's really complicated," she says. She exudes a calm strength, but hers is a serenity earned, likely necessitated, by a life and career visited often by controversy and tragedy.

At Birch Bark Books, Erdrich's complexity is on display. There's an oil painting, for instance, by imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier, of Ka-ishpah, a forefather of Erdrich and freedom fighter of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, the same band to which Erdrich (of Ojibwe and German heritage) and Peltier belong. Erdrich attended Peltier's 1977 trial for the murder of two FBI agents and is confident that "not one scintilla" of hard evidence linked Peltier to the murders. After Peltier was convicted (he's been held in Leavenworth Prison for twenty-four years), she wrote to him and they began a correspondence. In December, The New York Times published her editorial in support of Peltier while President Clinton was considering a pardon; it was not granted. On another wall is a shelf filled with books by Michael Dorris, Erdrich's former husband and writing partner. Erdrich met Dorris in 1972 when she enrolled in Dartmouth's first coed class; he was the head of the Native American Studies program. The two didn't get involved until several years after Erdrich graduated and after she'd worked as a waitress, a poetry teacher at prisons, a construction-flag signaler, an editor for the Boston Indian Council's newspaper, The Circle, and had earned a master's degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins. By then, Dorris was a father, the adoptive single parent of three Native American children who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, an experience he described in a 1989 memoir, The Broken Cord. Erdrich and Dorris married in 1981, had three daughters, and collaborated intensely on projects, including co-authoring the 1991 novel The Crown of Columbus.

But their life together unraveled. They separated in 1995, and were planning to divorce, when allegations of criminal sexual child abuse were leveled against Dorris by some of his children. He was under investigation, but nothing was resolved. Dorris committed suicide in 1997.

After Dorris's death, Erdrich was pursued by rumor and innuendo about the couple's marriage, their separation, their family, their careers. Published next to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that explained the allegations and details about Dorris's death -- a story for which Erdrich declined to be interviewed -- was a letter she wrote the editor. She expressed thanks to the community for its kind support, and asked that her family be granted privacy and time to grieve.

Today, Erdrich fiercely guards her privacy and that of her children. Quite simply, she states, "I'm finished talking about relationships." But her writing speaks to that which she won't; The Last Report can be seen as an extended reflection on exactly that -- relationships -- and it explores other issues central to Erdrich's life.

"I think every book is connected to a writer's psyche, but I can't say I know exactly how," Erdrich says. "It would be easy to say you were having gender issues at the same time you were writing, or a religious crisis. Certainly the task of my life has been to bring my daughters through a period of grief, but I don't think that's what the book is about entirely. It is about surviving, but I think it's about surviving yourself. The book became to me a search for a spiritual solution to the old human dilemma: Why am I me and why am I here and why is it so hard to be who I am?"

Hearing the Stories
A few years ago, Erdrich and her daughters walked by a blackened storefront window in their peaceful Minneapolis neighborhood. They started fantasizing about opening a bookstore, "complete with the bookstore cat you see in all those British movies." When the space came up for lease, Erdrich and her sister, poet Heid Erdrich, decided to start a business.

After stripping it back to its original bones -- it was originally a meat market, then a dentist's office -- they put in a stairway made from birch trees some friends in Wisconsin had found blown down on their land. Then they brought in the confessional.

Erdrich -- who claims to have a terrible addiction to rummage sales, estate sales, and anything vintage -- rescued the intricately carved Roman Catholic confessional from an architectural salvage store. Heid thought they could wire the confessional for CDs on one side and tapes on the other; their mother suggested they put books with sins in the title -- especially those about the seven deadly sins -- inside. Dream catchers dangle from the confessional's corners. A plain, framed copy of the U.S. Government's 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa hangs inside. It's a three-dimensional metaphor, raising questions about the role of the church and government in the life of Native Americans during the colonization of North America and bringing together both sides of Erdrich's ancestry. Though it serves mainly as decoration, Erdrich admits that she bought it because she "wanted to sit in the priest's box for once."

The confessional, a place of comfort and grace, is a reminder of the sanctity of stories and necessity of privacy. As a writer, Erdrich has been sitting in the priest's box for a long time. "Fiction for me is listening," she says. "It's about what I hear. I keep notes and I jot things down all the time and see what comes over the airwaves, what comes over the brain waves."

The oldest of seven children, Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, and raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents both taught at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. An avid reader, she also enjoyed the record player her father purchased with green stamps. "Not only did I read Shakespeare, but I had the record of King Lear, which was fantastic. Being in North Dakota, I never actually saw a stage production, but I heard King Lear. I can still hear that record, the sound of those voices." The voices Erdrich listened to while writing Love Medicine came to her primarily as first-person confessions. The book is a multigenerational portrait of two Ojibwe families, the Kashpaws and Lamartines, set in Argus. Over the past seventeen years, those whispers have added up to five more novels about the Kashpaws and Lamartines: The Beet Queen, Tracks, The Bingo Palace, Tales of Burning Love, and, now, The Last Report. "These are the people who came and talked to me way back when," Erdrich says. "And they keep talking to me, so I have to keep writing about them. I don't have a real choice about it. It's not like I can say, 'Now, I'm finished.' Because then they come back and they have another story to tell."

She stays busy with other stories, too. Starting in 1996, for instance, she published three books in three years: Grandmother's Pigeon, a children's story, The Antelope Wife, and The Birchbark House, which her friend Mark Anthony Rolo, a playwright and the former editor of Minneapolis's Native American newspaper, The Circle, says was the result of her dream to write the Native American version of Little House on the Prairie. She illustrated the book, which became a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

"The great thing about Louise," says Rolo, a member of the Bad River Ojibwe, "is that she lives in a Native community in town. And her family is well rooted in her community back home. She is not the Jane Austen of the Native community looking out a window at the industrial plight of her people."

The First Step of The Last Report
Erdrich started writing The Last Report in 1988, originally intending it to explain how all the earlier novels came into being. She imagined the local priest in Argus, Father Damien, who had appeared as a minor character in Love Medicine, divulging all the confessions of the community to a writer, who would turn out to be Erdrich herself. It wasn't until six years and several books later that Erdrich picked up The Last Report again. The completed version chronicles the life of Father Damien. Erdrich started the book with two images: a woman in a white nightgown floating down a river on the top of a piano, and a priest taking his clothes off for bed and revealing that he is actually a woman. Turns out they became the same person.

Some of those images come directly from Erdrich's life. Though no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, she was raised in the church and still reads everything that comes her way about Catholicism. A nun taught her piano when she was a young girl; she resumed playing in her late thirties, during "a particularly difficult time" and was astonished that her fingers remembered the old pieces. Today, she calls it an incredible solace to be able to have music when she wants it. "For a time I relied upon it so much," she says. "It was enormously consoling." As for the river, growing up, Erdrich was always conscious of its moods: The nearby Red River flooded when she was a child, and again in April 1997. It devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota, that time: It reached flood stage on April 4, and the dikes overflowed on Friday, April 18; Michael Dorris died in the midst of that flood (his body was found on April 11, 1997). The Last Report, which in its early pages is visited by a flood, ends in 1997, too.

Erdrich's new book is filled with lost love, lost identities, stories in danger of being forgotten, illness and death. But at its heart, The Last Report -- lyrical and funny and mesmerizing -- is about someone who, rather than being overwhelmed by loss, survives it. Agnes, in spite of her deprivations, achieves a fantastically full life.

"Agnes really has to live through the fact that she has an amazing drive to follow what her spirit dictates. She does follow it, and it is immensely difficult," Erdrich says of her heroine. "So maybe that's what it's about. And if it's autobiographical, what can I say?" She laughs. "It's hard surviving Louise. Louise has trouble surviving Louise."

But as she finishes her next novel, she has help. It's been a few years since she's had an infant with her while she works. "I talk to Azure every morning, and I say, 'So you're going to help me write the book, right?' " Then, after she gets her older daughters ready for school, Erdrich sneaks up to her room with a cup of tea. She ties the ropes of an Ojibwe swing to her foot so she can swing Azure and write at the same time.

"Maybe when I'm eighty, I'll start being a person who will choose the less complex of the choices, and life will be manageable," Erdrich says. "But I don't do that. I have an overwhelming need to experience everything that life can possibly offer." (Karen Olson)

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction
Beginning with her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning first novel Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich has spent nearly two decades carving her own fictional landscape from both the rough and mystical details of life on and around a North Dakota Indian reservation. In her masterful new novel, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Erdrich weaves a tale that spans nearly a century, the strange and compelling story of Father Damien Modeste, a beloved reservation priest who has hidden his true identity as a woman beneath his cassock.

When the novel begins in 1996, movement is afoot to consider Sister Leopolda, the former Pauline Puyat, for canonization because of purported miracles associated with her. But Damien knows many dark truths about the deceased nun; truths learned in the confessional and pieced together from fragments of history and conjecture. The old priest writes to the Pope, the last of a lifetime of letters he has written to the Pontiff, to reveal the truth about the controversial Sister Leopolda.

Damien has remained silent about the Puyat woman for decades, not only because of the sanctity of the confessional, but also because she knew his own secret. He reflects back on his extraordinary life, unfolding the details of how Agnes DeWitt, a nun with an almost erotic obsession with the piano music of Chopin, is transformed into Father Damien. After a quixotic journey, marked by armed robbers and a terrible flood, Agnes assumes the identity of the real Father Damien, lost in the flood, and spends the next 84 years on the reservation as an integral part of the community.

With his own brand of religion,Father Damien melds the rigid dogma of Catholicism with the ancient mystical beliefs of the Obijwe. He becomes a great friend of the elder Nanapush, and his life intertwines with those of the Kashpaws, Lamartines, Lazarres, Morrisseys, Pillagers -- characters who inhabit all of Erdrich's novels with Faulknerian deftness. Damien witnesses cataclysmic events that change reservation life forever -- the devastating 1919 influenza epidemic, the white man's land grab, and finally the coming of the Bingo Palace -- as well as the private passions, devotions and crimes of the Obijwe people he grows to love.

Later in his life, the Vatican sends a priest to investigate the holiness of Sister Leopolda. Father Jude encounters a maddening evasiveness from Father Damien about the would-be saint. As he stumbles through his own misguided search for meaning and transcendence, he too will be singularly changed by what he encounters.

A passionate and poetic writer, Louise Erdrich lends both elegance and wit to her most ambitious novel to date. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse reaffirms Erdrich's status as one of America's best novelists.

Questions for Discussion

  • Do you find Father Damien to be an attractive character? If so, why? Does it bother you that he is an impostor, a thief, a liar? Does it bother you that he spends money on a piano rather than on some other cause? He easily forgives others their sins, but can we forgive him that he has an affair with another priest?
  • The novel invites comparisons between Leopolda and Damien. Make lists of some of their similarities and differences. Does Erdrich seem to want us to favor one over the other, or is she making through the strangeness of both of them a comment about the "miracles" of Catholicism?
  • Father Damien goes to Little No Horse to convert the Ojibwe to Catholicism. By the end of the book has he nearly become converted to the very paganism he set out to replace?
  • What do you make of the black dog that hounds Father Damien? Is it the devil? Does it really speak? Is it evidence that Damien is insane? Why did Erdrich risk having us even ask that last question by including the dog in the first place? If it is a devil who tempts Father Damien in the wilderness, does Damien become some sort of a Christ figure?
  • Consider the various meanings of "passion" in this novel? Why does Erdrich use the word so often? What do you make of the implied allusion to the passion of Christ-or do you see no such implication?
  • In this novel a very passionate woman spends most of her life impersonating a man. Along the way she becomes aware of certain ways that men typically behave, as well as how they are typically treated by others. Is there a message here about male-female roles and attitudes? Does Erdrich's use of both genders of pronoun (he/she, etc.) to refer to Father Damien confuse you, or does it make sense in the context of the story?
  • In this novel more than any previous one, Erdrich gives untranslated words, phrases, and even sentences in the Ojibwe language. Why does she do this? Is it effective? Can you usually figure out from the context what the words, phrases, and sentences mean?
  • Do you find Nanapush to be as attractive a character as Father Damien does? Is he, like his namesake Nanabozho, a trickster figure of mythological proportions, or is he just a funny, oversexed, foolish, and sometimes wise old man? How would you compare his sexuality with that of Father Damien?
  • What are we to make of the Pope's failure to reply to any of Father Damien's letters during his lifetime? What are we to make of the Pope's willingness to write at the end of the novel after Father Damien is dead? Does this last make the novel feel more like comedy or tragedy? That is, does the final fax give the novel a happy or sad ending?
About the Author: Louise Erdrich was born in 1954, the oldest of seven children, and grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her Ojibwa-French mother and German-American father taught at a Bureau of Indian Affairs School. She did not leave the region until 1972, when she entered Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

During and after college, Erdrich held a variety of jobs: She hoed sugar beets in Wahpeton; waitressed in Boston, Syracuse and elsewhere; worked in a state mental hospital in Vermont; taught poetry in prisons and schools in North Dakota; worked on a construction site; and edited The Circle, a Boston Indian Council newspaper.

Jacklight, Erdrich's first book of poems, was published in 1983, followed a year later by Love Medicine, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Award, the Janet Kaufman Award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters, and other prizes. Love Medicine eventually became the first novel in a remarkable series that would include The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), Tales of Burning Love (1996) and The Antelope Wife (1998).

In addition to these novels, Erdrich's publications include a collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991, written with Michael Dorris), and another book of poetry Baptism of Desire (1989). She has written of art, infancy, and the natural world in her first work of nonfiction, The Blue Jay's Dance (1995).

Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota with her daughters. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is her most recent novel.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2012

    Spellbound

    Enchanting spirit, endearing characters with such deep revelation of their fears, strengths, greatness and human brokeness. Fr. Damian is a real piece of cake with so much to give yet there are rules that hold him back. Rules of his own making, rules imposed upon him by society and rock solid institutions. I think any person finds this in life. Choices of how one deals with it has consequenses. The author spells this out giving each letter breath, and each word spirit.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Wonderful book

    I absolutely adored this book. It was assigned reading for a class on Women Writers and I devoured every page.

    Erdrich is a talented, imaginative author and the story she tells is both interesting and intricate.

    I enjoyed the book so much I have asked my professors and fellow classmates to join me in an Erdrich book club this semester. We are all excited about it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2004

    Breath-taking read!

    I can not say enough about the power, beauty and honesty of this story. Anyone wanting to search the human soul will do well to read this...and then read it again. It has the mystery, intensity and depth of another favorite book of mine: Walking the Trail, One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, by Jerry Ellis.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2001

    A#10 STAR,DISCUSS AROUND THE WATERCOOLER BOOK, you will want to discuss this book with your friends............

    I couldn't put this book down. It took me for a delightful spin as the fictional events unfolded. I liked the main character and the supporting characters that Ms. Erdrich created. I never guessed where it was going or where it would end. It made me examine my core beliefs and it made me laugh...I think it's in the same realm as Angels Ashes & should get a Pulitzer. Can't get much better than this. Also, ( the real test for me ) I will buy this book for friends...and I want to read more of her works. She is like Kingsolver, creating a story that is easy to read, yet thought provoking. You become the authors captive. This would be a good book for any book group to read. Buy and enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    Enjoyed very much.

    A "grounding" story.
    Pragmatic and absurd at the same time.
    Enjoyed story. Only one point did it bog down.

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    Reading this book will make you more human... The spiritual, soc

    Reading this book will make you more human... The spiritual, social, and practical changes that came to North Dakota between 1910 and the present are described in the most lyrical way. Father Damien embodies many contradictions (woman and man; Catholic and Ojibwe world views; passion and endurance.) and yet life is unified in a seamless quest for the divine. Erdrich's descriptions of hunger, violence, and mental anguish are rivetting. Never sentimental, the whole book is infused with love. I plan to read it over and over again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2008

    Not literature, its more... This book is magic

    This book is the native american answer to Gunter Grass's Tin Drum. The main character of this book is the delightful, ancient and quirky Fr. Damien who is not quite what he seems. This book will make you laugh, cry and believe. The characters are so alive and real, so vital. I am a voracious reader and this book is one of the very best you will ever read. Few better. Only one thing did irritate me about this book. It had to end. And what the heck,I nominate Fr. Damien for Beatification.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2006

    Story telling at its finest!

    This is perhaps the only book I have ever read almost completely and then started over so I could savor it again. The first time I read it, I did not finish the last two chapters, but immediately started from the beginning to make sure I didn't miss anything! Beautifully written, a masterpiece of sorts! This book would make a great reading group project! Highly recommeded if you love superb character development and outstanding details!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2001

    Boldly Imaginative, Compassionate

    Louise Erdrich always blows me away, and this novel is her best yet. She has such a wild, quirky, and bold vision of the world -- and so much compassion for human flaws!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2001

    Erdrich at her best.

    Louise Erdrich is at her best here, and from me - the one who hands everyone a copy of the Beet Queen - that is high praise. This is about a person who must life a lie on the outside in order to be true to her own self. Typcally, Erdrich's characters are endearing despite themselves and leave you with a feeling both that you've visited a magic kingdom, and that you've been there before. Other books that have left me with this feeling are Sights by Susanna Vance (supposedly a YA book, but don't you believe it) and One Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2001

    EVERLASTING MYSTICISM

    I cannot begin to describe this book. Nothing I say will give it proper credit. So far this is one of the best books I have read this year; not at all a sleeper book. It kept me involved in all the everlasting mysticism and renowned characters; and never once does she stray from her signature, poetic voice. I hope this walks away with at least one literary achievement award.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2001

    What a page turner!!

    I couldn't put this book down. I read it in the course of two nights. I just bought two more books by the same author, and can't wait to read them. I strongly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2001

    Wonderful

    This is a great book. Spellbinding. Yet down to earth characters. I love Erdrich's style.

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    Posted April 13, 2011

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    Posted June 17, 2010

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    Posted April 4, 2012

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