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A strange and compelling unkillable woman decides to leave home, and the story begins. Fleur Pillager takes her mother's name, Four Souls, for strength and walks from her Ojibwe reservation to the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. She is seeking restitution from and revenge on the lumber baron who has stripped her reservation. But revenge is never simple, and she quickly finds her intentions complicated by her own dangerous compassion for the man who wronged her.
The two narrators of Four Souls are from utterly different worlds. Nanapush, a "smart man and a fool," is both Fleur's savior and her conscience. He tells Fleur's story and tells his own. He would like a calm and discriminating love with his sweetheart, Margaret. He is old and would like to face death with his love beside him. Instead the two find themselves battling out their last years. When the childhood nemesis of Nanapush appears and casts his eye toward Margaret, Nanapush acts out an absurd revenge of his own and nearly ends up destroying everything. The other narrator, Polly Elizabeth Gheen, is a pretentious and vulnerable upper-crust fringe element, a hanger-on in a wealthy Minneapolis family, a woman aware of her precarious hold on those around her. To her own great surprise the entrance of Fleur Pillager into her household and her life effects a transformation she could never have predicted.
In the world of interconnected novels by Louise Erdrich, Four Souls is most closely linked to Tracks. All these works continue and elaborate the intricate story of life on a reservation peopled by saints and false saints, heroes and sinners, clever fools and tenacious women. Four Soulsreminds us of the deep spirituality and the ordinary humanity of this world, and is as beautiful and lyrical as anything Louise Erdrich has written.
About the Author:
Louise Erdrich is the author of ten novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.
About the Author
Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.
Date of Birth:June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:Little Falls, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979
Read an Excerpt
Fleur took the small roads, the rutted paths through the woods traversing slough edge and heavy underbrush, trackless, unmapped, unknown and always bearing east. She took the roads that the deer took, trails that hadn't a name yet and stopped abruptly or petered out in useless ditch. She took the roads she had to make herself, chopping alder and flattening reeds. She crossed fields and skirted lakes, pulled her cart over farmland and pasture, heard the small clock and shift of her ancestors' bones when she halted, spent of all but the core of her spirit. Through rain she slept beneath the cart's bed. When the sun shone with slant warmth she rose and went on, kept walking until she came to the iron road.
The road had two trails, parallel and slender. This was the path she had been looking for, the one she wanted. The man who had stolen her trees took this same way. She followed his tracks.
She nailed tin grooves to the wheels of her cart and kept going on that road, taking one step and then the next step, and the next. She wore her makizinan to shreds, then stole a pair of boots off the porch of a farmhouse, strangling a fat dog to do it. She skinned the dog, boiled and ate it, leaving only the bones behind, sucked hollow. She dug cattails from the potholes and roasted the sweet root. She ate mud hens and snared muskrats, and still she traveled east. She traveled until the iron road met up with another, until the twin roads grew hot from the thunder and lightning of so many trains passing and she had to walk beside.
The night before she reached the city the sky openedand it snowed. The ground wasn't frozen and her fire kept her warm. She thought hard. She found a tree and under it she buried the bones and the clan markers, tied a red prayer flag to the highest branches, and then slept beneath the tree. That was the night she took her mother's secret name to herself, named her spirit. Four Souls, she was called. She would need the name where she was going.
The next morning, Fleur pushed the cart into heavy bramble and piled brush over to hide it. She washed herself in ditch water, braided her hair, and tied the braids together in a loop that hung down her back. She put on the one dress she had that wasn't ripped and torn, a quiet brown. And the heavy boots. A blanket for a shawl. Then she began to walk toward the city, carrying her bundle, thinking of the man who had taken her land and her trees.
She was still following his trail.
Far across the fields she could hear the city rumbling as she came near, breathing in and out like a great sleeping animal. The cold deepened. The rushing sound of wheels in slush made her dizzy, and the odor that poured, hot, from the doorways and windows and back porches caused her throat to shut. She sat down on a rock by the side of the road and ate the last pinch of pemmican from a sack at her waist. The familiar taste of the pounded weyass, the dried berries, nearly brought tears to her eyes. Exhaustion and longing filled her. She sang her mother's song, low, then louder, until her heart strengthened, and when she could feel her dead around her, gathering, she straightened her back. She kept on going, passed into the first whitened streets and on into the swirling heart of horns and traffic. The movement of mechanical, random things sickened her. The buildings upon buildings piled together shocked her eyes. The strange lack of plant growth confused her. The people stared through her as though she were invisible until she thought she was, and walked more easily then, just a cloud reflected in a stream.
Below the heart of the city, where the stomach would be, strange meadows opened made of stuff clipped and green. For a long while she stood before a leafless box hedge, upset into a state of wonder at its square shape, amazed that it should grow in so unusual a fashion, its twigs gnarled in smooth planes. She looked up into the bank of stone walls, of brick houses and wooden curlicued porches that towered farther uphill. In the white distance one mansion shimmered, light glancing bold off its blank windowpanes and turrets and painted rails. Fleur blinked and passed her hand across her eyes. But then, behind the warm shadow of her fingers, she recovered her inner sight and slowly across her face there passed a haunted, white, wolf grin.
Sometimes an old man doesn't know how he knows things. He can't remember where knowledge came from. Sometimes it is clear. Fleur told me all about this part of her life some years after she lived it. For the rest, though, my long talks with Father Damien resulted in a history of the great house that Fleur grinned up at that day. I pieced together the story of how it was formed. The priest and I sat long on the benches set against my little house, or at a slow fire, or even inside at the table carefully arranged on the linoleum floor over which Margaret got so particular. During those long conversations Father Damien and I exchanged rumors, word, and speculation about Fleur's life and about the great house where she went. What else did we have to talk about? The snow fell deep. The same people lived in the same old shacks here. Over endless games of cards or chess we amused ourselves by wondering about Fleur Pillager. For instance, we guessed that she followed her trees and, from that, we grew convinced that she was determined to cut down the man who took them. She had lived among those oak and pine trees when their roots grew deep beneath her and their leaves thick above.Four Souls
A Novel. Copyright © by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
“Powerful and haunting.”
Reading Group Guide
Taking up where Tracks leaves off, in Four Souls, a strange and compelling woman decides to leave home, and the story begins. Fleur Pillager takes her mother's name, Four Souls, for strength and walks from her Ojibwe reservation to the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. She is seeking revenge on the lumber baron who has stripped her reservation. But revenge is never simple, and she quickly finds her intentions complicated by her own dangerous compassion for the man who wronged her.
The two narrators of Four Souls are from utterly different worlds. Nanapush is both Fleur's savior and her conscience. He tells Fleur's story and tells his own. When his childhood nemesis appears and casts his eye toward his wife, Margaret, Nanapush acts out an absurd revenge of his own and nearly ends up destroying everything. The other narrator, Polly Elizabeth Gheen, is a pretentious and vulnerable upper-crust fringe element, a hanger-on in a wealthy Minneapolis family, a woman aware of her precarious hold on those around her. To her own great surprise, the entrance of Fleur Pillager into her household and her life effects a transformation she could never have predicted. Both narrators come to a deeper understanding of themselves through their relationships with the elusive Fleur Pillager.
Questions for Discussion
- At the opening of Four Souls, where is Fleur Pillager and what trail is she following? What motivates her to leave her home? How is her home on the reservation connected to John James Mauser's elegant house in Minneapolis?
- How would you describe Polly Elizabeth Gheen? What explains her presence at Mauser's house? How does she involve herself with his medical condition?
- Discuss the myriad attitudes about human sexuality explored in Four Souls in the characters of John and Placide Mauser, Polly Gheen, Fleur Pillager, Nanapush, and Margaret Kashpaw. What is Karezza, and how does it spell doom for the Mausers' marriage?
- What has John Mauser done to incur Fleur Pillager's wrath? Why does she want him dead, and how does he manage to convert her hate into something else? Did anything in the development of their relationship surprise you?
- When Nanapush says of Fleur, "There were times we hated who we were, and who we had to become, in order not to follow those we loved into the next world," what does he mean? What roles do ancestors play in Four Souls? How does the figure of Four Souls "live beneath the life" of Fleur Pillager?
- How does Fleur's pregnancy alter her relationship with Polly Gheen?
- Describe John James Mauser II. How does his father make sense of his son's condition? How does Fleur use it to her advantage?
- How does Margaret Kashpaw's desire for linoleum upset the equilibrium of her relationship with Nanapush? How does Nanapush respond to Margaret's decision? Discuss the nature of their relationship. How do honesty and jealousy come into play?
- What is the significance of Margaret's medicine dress in Four Souls? What is its intended use? What does Nanapush use it for? How does Margaret propose to use it to help Fleur?
- Nanapush writes: "When I look at the scope and drift of our history, I see that we have come out of it with something, at least. This scrap of earth. This ishkonigan. This left over. We've got this and as long as we can hold on to it we will be some sort of people." What are some of the challenges faced by the Ojibwe people as a whole? Do you see the ending of Four Souls as hopeful? Tragic? Discuss possible interpretations of the ending of the novel.
About the Author
Louise Erdrich is the author of ten novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.
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