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)
[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
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
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.
[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.
Stunning ...a moving meditation ... infused with mystery and wonder.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bold and imaginative.
A deeply affecting narrative … by turns comical and elegiac, farcical and tragic. New York Times
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.
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
A Novel Chapter One Naked Woman Playing Chopin
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.
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.