Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tracks, by Louise Erdrich

First things first: this review isn't meant to stand alone. For a summary of the book and Chris's thoughts, please check out his fantastic review. It's been too long since I read Tracks for me to write anything really in-depth about it, but I wanted to mention a few thoughts here since I recommended it to Chris and it's a great book.

As Chris mentions, Native American authors just aren't a well-known segment, so reading Tracks, and Erdrich's other work, can be a bracing experience. It's one thing to hear about something like the Trail of Tears or the various ways the American government has gone about stealing native land; it's another entirely to read a cycle of novels that looks at the U.S. as entirely unsympathetic, and sees not just the commercial aspect, but also the religious aspect, of what happened to the Native Americans as tragic.

I'll get to the point: I've never read a book that wasn't flat out hostile to all religion that is as hostile toward Christianity, and especially Catholicism, as Tracks is. Or actually, I take that back--the closest analogue for me is Things Fall Apart, which was similarly bracing and hostile toward Christianity destroying an indigenous culture. However, Things Fall Apart is a little different in that the Christians that ultimately destroy the village are villainous. In Tracks, there's no such buffer--the nuns that appear in the story aren't evil. They even try to help. But their religion can really be nothing but hostile or impotent to the natives who've watched as Christians overrun everything they've ever known.

There's also just the general humanization of the various Native American characters that occurs as the story progresses. Nanapush initially reads as a cipher, maybe even a caricature; Fleur seems like The (Wo)man with No Name; Pauline, like your standard sheltered teenager. But as the story progresses, they all reveal vulnerabilities as they are acted on by forces outside their control, and are gradually revealed to be as human and fallible as anyone else.

I'm looking forward to reading The Bingo Palace, which is the next book in the cycle, and continues the story of Pauline and the various families introduced in Tracks. Hopefully that review will be a little better.

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