The Plague of Doves

The Plague of Doves

3.2 38
by Louise Erdrich, Peter Francis James

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The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.

Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's


The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.

Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.

Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Writing in prose that combines the magical sleight of hand of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the earthy, American rhythms of Faulkner, Ms. Erdrich traces the connections between these characters and their many friends and relatives with sympathy, humor and the unsentimental ardor of a writer who sees that the tragedy and comedy in her people's lives are ineluctably commingled…her storytelling here is supple and assured, easily navigating the wavering line between a recognizable, psychological world and the more arcane world of legend and fable…arguably her most ambitious—and in many ways, her most deeply affecting—work yet.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
What marks these stories—some of which appeared in the New Yorker and the Atlantic—is what has always set Erdrich apart and made her work seem miraculous: the jostling of pathos and comedy, tragedy and slapstick in a peculiar dance. As horrific as the crimes at the heart of this novel are, other sections remind us that Erdrich is a great comic writer. When Mooshum isn't leading Eve through the history of her family, he's daring the local Catholic priest to save him or pursuing alcohol and romance with dogged, hilarious determination. Some of the funniest moments take place during a funeral, and even the murders and lynchings that bleed so much heartache are heightened by incongruous notes of humor.
—The Washington Post
Bruce Barcott
In A Plague of Doves, Erdrich has created an often gorgeous, sometimes maddeningly opaque portrait of a community strangled by its own history. Pluto is one of those places we read about now and then when big-city papers run features about the death of small-town America. When you grow up in such a place, people know that your mother was a wild child back in high school. They know why your uncle talks to himself in the grocery store. What Erdrich knows is that this history, built up over generations, yields a kind of claustrophobia that has only one cure: Leave.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Erdrich's 13th novel, a multigenerational tour de force of sin, redemption, murder and vengeance, finds its roots in the 1911 slaughter of a farming family near Pluto, N.Dak. The family's infant daughter is spared, and a posse forms, incorrectly blames three Indians and lynches them. One, Mooshum Milk, miraculously survives. Over the next century, descendants of both the hanged men and the lynch mob develop relationships that become deeply entangled, and their disparate stories are held together via principal narrator Evelina, Mooshum Milk's granddaughter, who comes of age on an Indian reservation near Pluto in the 1960s and '70s and forms two fateful adolescent crushes: one on bad-boy schoolmate Corwin Peace and one on a nun. Though Evelina doesn't know it, both are descendants of lynch mob members. The plot splinters as Evelina enrolls in college and finds work at a mental asylum; Corwin spirals into a life of crime; and a long-lost violin (its backstory is another beautiful piece of the mosaic) takes on massive significance. Erdrich plays individual narratives off one another, dropping apparently insignificant clues that build to head-slapping revelations as fates intertwine and the person responsible for the 1911 killing is identified. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Erdrich adds more layers of history to her community centered on an Ojibwe reservation in rural North Dakota, and as her loyal readers understand, she is going to make us work for it. This latest novel (after The Game of Silence, a novel for children) begins with a mysterious killing. As the people of the town of Pluto get the chance to tell their stories, they are attempting to reconcile the tangible with the spiritual, the native with the Eurocentric, and the reason behind the murders is hidden within the struggle. Be it the power of nature, the power of the holy, or the power of one's ancestry, the people that populate these linked tales are at the mercy of unseen forces. Erdrich's stories require our patience, as we are offered bits and scraps that we must somehow arrange in order to get to the sum of their parts. She gives us credit for being smart enough to see the big picture, and the end result is always worth the effort. This work serves to bolster her body of work, and we are fortunate that such a gifted storyteller continues to focus her gaze on this region of the continent. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]
—Susanne Wells

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
The latest Erdrich novel (The Painted Drum, 2005, etc.) about the Ojibwes and the whites they live among in North Dakota spirals around a terrible multiple murder that reverberates down through generations of a community. In the 1960s, Evelina Harp's Ojibwe grandfather, Mooshum, tells mesmerizing stories of his past. Having found a murdered family and saved the surviving baby, Mooshum and three Ojibwe friends were blamed for the killings and lynched by a mob of local whites in 1911. For reasons not immediately apparent, Mooshum was spared at the last moment, but his friends died. Evelina's first boyfriend is Corwin Peace, whose ancestor was one of those lynched. Her favorite teacher, a nun, descends from one of the mob leaders. And Evelina's middle-class parents of mixed heritage straddle the two cultures. Aunt Neve Harp sent her banker husband, who is Corwin's father, to prison after he arranged Neve's kidnapping by Corwin's then teenage uncle Billy in a phony ransom subplot (a little reminiscent of the movie Fargo). Spiritual Billy evolves into the tyrannical leader of a religious cult until his wife Marn Wolde, the daughter of farmers whose land he's taken over, kills him to save her children. While in college Evelina ends up briefly in a mental hospital where she gets to know Marn's lunatic uncle Warren. Corwin, under the positive influence of Judge Coutts and his new wife, Evelina's Aunt Geraldine, becomes a musician playing the same violin that once belonged to his ancestors. Judge Coutts's previous lover Cordelia, an older woman and a doctor who won't treat Indians, was once saved by Mooshum and his friends. Guilt and redemption pepper these self-sufficient, intertwining stories,and readers who can keep track of the characters will find their efforts rewarded. The magic lies in the details of Erdrich's ever-replenishing mythology, whether of a lost stamp collection or a boy's salvation. A lush, multilayered book. Agent: Andrew Wylie/The Wylie Agency
Marie Claire
“Erdrich’s latest so natural you forget there’s a writer behind it...Instantly gripping...”
Booklist (starred review)
“Mesmerizing… Erdrich ...communicate[s] the complexity and the mystery of human relationships.”
Miami Herald
“To read Louise Erdrich’s thunderous new novel is to leap headlong into the fiery imagination of a master storyteller...a rich, colorful mosaic of tales that twist and turn for decades...”
Hartford Courant
“Erdrich has demonstrated a rare ability to create vibrant, wholly original characters and to describe nature in a prose so lyrical it becomes poetry. ‘The Plague of Doves’ is proof that she has yet to exhaust her powerful magic.”
Boston Globe
“The stories told by [Erdrich’s] characters offer pleasures of language, of humor, of sheer narrative momentum, that shine even in the darkest moments of the book.”
Washington Post Book World
“An intricate tale of heartbreak and humor...wondrous novel...What marks these what has always set Erdrich apart and made her work seem miraculous: the jostling of pathos and comedy...Sit down and listen carefully.”
“ once mythic and down-to-earth...beautiful, funny, moving, and unexpected.”
USA Today
“One can only Erdrich’s amazing ability to do what so few of us can – shape words into phrases and sentences of incomparable beauty that, then, pour forth a mesmerizing story.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“[Erdrich’s] accomplishment in these pages is Tolstoy-like: to render human particularity so meticulously and with such fierce passion as to convey the great, glittering movement of time.”
MORE Magazine
“Erdrich deftly weaves past and present, and her literary territory is as intricate as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.”
Time Out New York
“Erdrich is in top form here...”
Pam Houston
“Wholly felt and exquisitely rendered tales of memory and intricate tapestry that deeply satisfies the mind, the heart, and the spirit.”
Philip Roth
“Louise Erdrich’s imaginative freedom has reached its zenith—The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece.”
"Mesmerizing… Erdrich ...communicate[s] the complexity and the mystery of human relationships."

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The Plague of Doves

Chapter One

The Plague of Doves

In the year 1896, my great-uncle, one of the first Catholic priests of aboriginal blood, put the call out to his parishioners that they should gather at Saint Joseph's wearing scapulars and holding missals. From that place they would proceed to walk the fields in a long, sweeping row, and with each step loudly pray away the doves. His human flock had taken up the plow and farmed among German and Norwegian settlers. Those people, unlike the French who mingled with my ancestors, took little interest in the women native to the land and did not intermarry. In fact, the Norwegians disregarded everybody but themselves and were quite clannish. But the doves ate their crops the same.

When the birds descended, both Indians and whites set up great bonfires and tried driving them into nets. The doves ate the wheat seedlings and the rye and started on the corn. They ate the sprouts of new flowers and the buds of apples and the tough leaves of oak trees and even last year's chaff. The doves were plump, and delicious smoked, but one could wring the necks of hundreds or thousands and effect no visible diminishment of their number. The pole-and-mud houses of the mixed-bloods and the bark huts of the blanket Indians were crushed by the weight of the birds. They were roasted, burnt, baked up in pies, stewed, salted down in barrels, or clubbed dead with sticks and left to rot. But the dead only fed the living and each morning when the people woke it was to the scraping and beating of wings, the murmurous susurration, the awful cooing babble, and the sight, to those who still possessed intact windows, ofthecurious and gentle faces of those creatures.

My great-uncle had hastily constructed crisscrossed racks of sticks to protect the glass in what, with grand intent, was called the rectory. In a corner of that one-room cabin, his younger brother, whom he had saved from a life of excessive freedom, slept on a pallet of fir boughs and a mattress stuffed with grass. This was the softest bed he'd ever lain in and the boy did not want to leave it, but my great-uncle thrust choirboy vestments at him and told him to polish up the candelabra that he would bear in the procession.

This boy was to become my mother's father, my Mooshum. Seraph Milk was his given name, and since he lived to be over one hundred, I was present and about eleven years old during the time he told and retold the story of the most momentous day of his life, which began with this attempt to vanquish the plague of doves. He sat on a hard chair, between our first television and the small alcove of bookshelves set into the wall of our government-owned house on the Bureau of Indian Affairs reservation tract. Mooshum would tell us he could hear the scratching of the doves' feet as they climbed all over the screens of sticks that his brother had made. He dreaded the trip to the out-house, where many of the birds had gotten mired in the filth beneath the hole and set up a screeching clamor of despair that drew their kind to throw themselves against the hut in rescue attempts. Yet he did not dare relieve himself anywhere else. So through flurries of wings, shuffling so as not to step on their feet or backs, he made his way to the out-house and completed his necessary actions with his eyes shut. Leaving, he tied the door closedso that no other doves would be trapped.

The out-house drama, always the first in the momentous day, was filled with the sort of detail that my brother and I found interesting. The out-house, well-known to us although we now had plumbing, and the horror of the birds' death by excrement, as well as other features of the story's beginning, gripped our attention. Mooshum was our favorite indoor entertainment, next to the television. But our father had removed the television's knobs and hidden them. Although we made constant efforts, we never found the knobs and came to believe that he carried them upon his person at all times. So we listened to our Mooshum instead. While he talked, we sat on kitchen chairs and twisted our hair. Our mother had given him a red coffee can for spitting snoose. He wore soft, worn, green Sears work clothes, a pair of battered brown lace-up boots, and a twill cap, even in the house. His eyes shone from slits cut deep into his face. The upper half of his left ear was missing, giving him a lopsided look. He was hunched and dried out, with random wisps of white hair down his ears and neck. From time to time, as he spoke, we glimpsed the murky scraggle of his teeth. Still, such was his conviction in the telling of this story that it wasn't hard at all to imagine him at twelve.

His big brother put on his vestments, the best he had, hand-me-downs from a Minneapolis parish. As real incense was impossible to obtain, he prepared the censer by stuffing it with dry sage rolled up in balls. There was an iron hand pump and a sink in the cabin, and Mooshum's brother, or half brother, Father Severine Milk, wet a comb and slicked back his hair and then his littlebrother's hair. The church was a large cabin just across the yard, and wagons had been pulling up for the last hour or so. Now the people were in the church and the yard was full of the parked wagons, each with a dog or two tied in the box to keep the birds and their droppings off the piled hay where people would sit. The constant movement of the birds made some of the horses skittish. Many wore blinders and were further . . .

The Plague of Doves. Copyright ? by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Michiko Kakutani
“Writing in prose that combines the magical sleight of hand of Gabriel García Márquez with the earthy, American rhythms of Faulkner...[Ms. Erdrich] has written what is arguably her most ambitious—and in many ways, her most deeply affecting—work yet.”
Philip Roth
“Louise Erdrich’s imaginative freedom has reached its zenith—The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece.”
Pam Houston
“Wholly felt and exquisitely rendered tales of memory and intricate tapestry that deeply satisfies the mind, the heart, and the spirit.”

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich lives with her family in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. Ms. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and this story—which will, in the end, span one hundred years in the life of an Ojibwe woman—was inspired when Ms. Erdrich and her mother, Rita Gourneau Erdrich, were researching their own family history. Chickadee begins a new part of the story that started with The Birchbark House, a National Book Award finalist; The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction; and the acclaimed The Porcupine Year.

Ms. Erdrich is also the bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels for adults, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves and National Book Award finalist The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. She is also the author of the picture book Grandmother's Pigeon, illustrated by Jim LaMarche.

Peter Francis James has starred in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions, as well as on such television programs as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, New York Undercover and State of Affairs.

Brief Biography

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:
Little Falls, Minnesota
B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

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Plague of Doves 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
kiaflwr05 More than 1 year ago
LOVE LOVE LOVE! hard to follow at first. Essentailly a book of short stories but once you find out how they are all connected you will simply just melt. slow start but resounding finish
am-sandy More than 1 year ago
It was wonderful to read another Erdrich book... and to see a whole new host of characters. I can only hope she continues, as she has in the past, to develop these characters in further books. I haunting story that is a reminder to how we got where we are today.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The massacre occurs on a farm near Pluto, North Dakota. Only an infant daughter survives. The white community is outraged and in a fevered pitch, a posse acting more like a mob search for Ojibwe Indians whom they blame for the horrific incident. When the posse finds several Indians, they hold them responsible without evidence and hang them; one of them Seraph "Mooshum" Milk survives. ------------- Over the next few decades, the families involved in the lynching incident intermingle. Mooshum's granddaughter Evelina Harp is raised on a nearby reservation in the1 960s and 1970s. As a teen she falls for bad-boy Corwin Peace and is friendly with a nun, who unbeknownst to her is descendents of the lynch mob; in fact she is too as part of her family come from that vigilante mob. Evelina attends college and work at a mental asylum Corwin becomes a felon.------------ In some ways this excellent story is a series of vignettes that are told in a non-linear manner; a technique that adds depth to what happened in 1911 and how by the 1970s the descendents of those involved in the two murderous incidents have intertwining lives. The complex story line is made even more complex by the many fully developed and important characters although Evelina as the narrator keeps the plot sort of focused. This is a winner as fans learn through a lot of seemingly irrelevant and apparently unrelated clues the truth of that tragic year once the big picture becomes complete. Louise Erdrich is at the top of her game with this terrific tale.--------- Harriet Klausner
JohnND More than 1 year ago
The Plague of Doves By Louise Erdrich The heart of the fictional story is the real 1897 lynching of three First Nation people in North Dakota. The author tells a story of the injustice that the First Nations people in the America¿s received from the white immigrants when the came in contact with each other. I enjoyed meeting each of the characters as the story moves along over the last century revealing how there lives are intertwined. The book is written in an easy to read style and the characters seem as though they could have been someone I know. I say thank you to Louise Erdrich for a good book.
Randomadder More than 1 year ago
The horrific murder of a farm family in 1911 and the shameful act of vigilantism that followed have affected the lives of nearly everyone in the town of Pluto, North Dakota and the adjoining Ojibwe reservation for decades, yet the murder was never solved. Using several narrators, Ms. Erdrich creates such authentic voices that I felt that I was listening to their stories rather than reading them. She is a master storyteller whose characters are unique, engaging and utterly real. They reveal their lives while slowly revealing the details of that terrible day in 1911. They show how deeply those events have become entwined in the history and the psyche of the community. Yet they have their own lives, full of passions, ambitions, hatreds, loves and those lives become entwined with the history as well. The lives portrayed are fascinating - some quite funny, some eccentric, some painful. They are all compelling. One of the most compelling is the story of the violin and its players. These musicians have such passion and skill that their music can make the listeners feel whatever emotion they need to experience - love, joy, peace and perhaps even justice. This is a wonderfully entertaining and yet haunting work that is capable of generating many incisive discussions.
BoundtoRead More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It's in my top 5 of books read in 2008. A must read!
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
I found the writing to be beautiful, but the plot-line to be occasionally confusing. Part of the problem was that I listened to this on tape, which made it difficult at times to keep track of the varying voices and narrators. Being from ND, I especially enjoyed that the book was set in North Dakota.
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I enjoyed how each history tied the characters together and through a wide array of emotions.
StrayCat99 More than 1 year ago
It may be a little of challenge following the style, but it is worth the investment. It will help to make some simple notes on who is related to who and the timeline of their respective story.
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Judy_Croome More than 1 year ago
¿Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors, too. Things we¿d lived through and didn¿t want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprising pleasures. No, we can¿t live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. And this realization was in the music, somehow, or in the way Shamengwa played it.¿ Thus spake the voice of Louise Erdrich in THE PLAGUE OF DOVES, a novel that is itself like a river: sometimes gentle and calm; at other times deep, dark and dangerous; more often than not, tumbling the reader through complex currents of emotion ranging from outright laughter to despair and ultimately into a lingering melancholy touched by a glimmer of hope. As is usual when I read Erdrich, I stayed up well into the night to finish this book in one sitting. From the tragic opening chapter and the repercussions of the act that shadowed the story right until the pragmatic voice of Doctor Cordelia Lochren finally resolves all the unanswered questions, the subtle threads that bind the characters and their lives together across time and generations and race are woven into a story that, as the ¿strange sweetness¿ of violin music does, shatters our expectations. Beautifully written, both lyrical and mystical, the story Erdrich tells never glosses over the legacies that we both inherit from our ancestors and ourselves plant for our descendants. From the surreal voice of Marn Wolde to the iconoclastic bantering of the Milk brothers, the characters discover that the lives we live are the sum of our past and of our own choices: ¿freedom,¿ says the gifted violinist Shamengwa, ¿is not only in the running but in the heart.¿ And, as Judge Antone Bazil Coutts reflects on his life ¿ from a torrid youthful affair with an older woman to his early work as a grave digger ¿ he realises that ¿only the dead [are] at equilibrium.¿ When one reads THE PLAGUE OF DOVES, there is no equilibrium: one is swept along from page to page and left gasping at the poignant dignity and utter humanity of the characters inhabiting this must-read novel.
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