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Four Souls

Four Souls

4.0 2
by Louise Erdrich

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
“Great originality and charm.”
Atlantic Monthly
“FOUR SOULS juxtaposes … the ribald and the elegiac.”
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Stunning flights of lyricism.”
Justin Cronin
The novel could run the risk at this point of being simply overwhelmed by its subplots, but Erdrich elegantly weaves her threads together in the book's last movement, when Fleur, her husband's fortune in ruins, returns with her son to the reservation and undertakes the final reclamation of her ancestral lands. How she accomplishes this is a secret no reviewer should reveal, and I won't. Suffice to say it adds a lovely coda to a book that, sequel or not, possesses many of the signature charms of its author's most accomplished work.
The Washington Post
Karen Joy Fowler
This shifting of voices and stories, ranging back and forth in time and place, may sound dauntingly complicated; luckily, it doesn't read that way. In fact, the progression of events feels natural and unforced, full of satisfying yet unexpected twists. The book begins with clean, spare prose, but finishes in gorgeous incantation and poetry.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Fleur Pillager, one of Erdrich's most intriguing characters, embarks on a path of revenge in this continuation of the Ojibwe saga that began with Tracks. As a young woman, Fleur journeys from her native North Dakota to avenge the theft of her land. In Minneapolis, she locates the grand house of the thief: one John James Mauser, whom she plans to kill. But Fleur is patient and stealthy; she gets herself hired by Mauser's sister-in-law, Polly Elizabeth, as a laundress. Polly acts as the household manager, tending to the invalid Mauser as well as her sister, the flaky and frigid Placide. Fleur upends this domestic arrangement by ensnaring Mauser, who marries her in a desperate act of atonement. Revenge becomes complicated as Fleur herself suffers under its weight: she descends into alcoholism and gives birth to an autistic boy. In Erdrich's trademark style, chapters are narrated by alternating characters-in this case Polly Elizabeth, as well as Nanapush, the elderly man from Tracks, and his wife, Margaret. (Nanapush and Margaret's relationship, and the jealousies and revenge that ensue, play out as a parallel narrative.) More so than in other of Erdrich's books, this tale feels like an insider's experience: without the aid of jacket copy, new readers will have trouble feeling a sure sense of place and time. And Fleur herself-though fascinating-remains elusive. Nevertheless, the rich detail of Indian culture and community is engrossing, and Erdrich is deft (though never heavy-handed) in depicting the struggle to keep this culture alive in the face of North American "progress." The themes of fruitless revenge and redemption are strong here, especially when combined with the pull of her lyrical prose; Erdrich may not ensnare many new readers, but she will certainly satisfy her already significant audience. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (July 2) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Erdrich here returns to her fictional chronicle of modern Native American culture, as exemplified by generations of interrelated North Dakotans, picking up where she ended in Tracks (1988). Although it contains crossover characters and allusions to past events, this work may be read without consulting the earlier work. Taking place several years after World War I and narrated principally by tribal leader Nanapush and Polly Elizabeth, a white woman from the city, the plot focuses on beautiful Ojibwe mystic Fleur Pillager. Adopting the powerful secret name Four Souls, Fleur travels to the urban mansion of her people's great enemy, John Mauser, and plans his execution (first miraculously curing him of a wasting illness). But Fleur's control slips: her peculiar marriage to Mauser and a crippling addiction to alcohol put her on the road again, with a severely damaged son and just two possessions: a luxurious automobile and an exquisite suit. However, once she returns to Matchimanito's lakeshore, these are sufficient means for achieving a kind of triumph. Fleur's story, along with comic subplots involving the narrators, is marked by imagery both poetic and moving, if at times overwrought. Yet the beauty of Erdrich's writing compensates more than adequately for that minor flaw. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/04.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The loss of ancestral lands and the revivifying power of traditions shape the dialectic that informs the latest in Erdrich's expanding Ojibwe saga (The Master Butchers Singing Club, 2003, etc.). This taut ninth installment focuses on characters initially fully developed in her third novel, Tracks (1988): austere, semi-legendary "medicine woman" Fleur Pillager and aging tribal chairman and inveterate lover of women Gerry Nanapush. The story of Fleur's journey from her North Dakota reservation to Minneapolis, to seek revenge against prosperous land baron John James Mauser (the man who stole her land), and its bizarre aftermath are told by three narrators. Fleur's stoicism and steely resolve are vividly evoked by Gerry, in a long conversation with her estranged daughter Lulu. Her decision to ruin Mauser by first healing his mysterious illness, then marrying him is described by Mauser's spinster sister-in-law Polly Elizabeth, who becomes Fleur's employer, then her devoted nurse and companion . And, late in the story, the details of Fleur's return to the reservation and arduous re-connection with "her neglected spirits" are related by Gerry's strong-willed common-law-wife Margaret Kashpaw, who loves, tolerates, browbeats, and outwits the misbehaving Gerry, while patiently assembling from hunted and found natural materials the "medicine dress" whose magical powers may permit Fleur reentry into the world she had abandoned. Four Souls (the name passed on to Fleur by her supernaturally empowered grandmother) feels a bit hurried and at times awkwardly focused. We lose sight of Fleur for some time while Gerry recalls his rivalry with neighbor and mortal enemy Shesheeb (who has an eye for Margaret).But the tale's swiftness has a pleasing rhythm, and Erdrich's double plot does skillfully link Gerry's embattled relationship with Margaret to Fleur's purification through anger, alcoholism, and suffering-accomplished not just with Margaret's aid but with that of the retarded, "unnamed" son she bore her enemy. A welcome addition, then, to a uniquely enthralling and important American story. First serial to the New Yorker. Agent: Andrew Wylie/The Wylie Agency
Michiko Kakutani
“Powerful and haunting.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.86(d)

Read an Excerpt

Four Souls

Chapter One

The Roads


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 opened and 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.


Excerpted from Four Souls by Erdrich, Louise Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This

Michiko Kakutani
“Powerful and haunting.”

Meet 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.

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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