The 5 Titles series highlights books, music, and films in the library’s collection, featuring topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and/or highlighting authors’ work from diverse backgrounds. Each post is intended to briefly sample titles rather than provide a comprehensive topic overview. This month, the five titles have been selected by Librarian for Philosophy and Religious Studies, Cheryl Thomas. The “Love Medicine” stories of writer Louise Erdrich are an example of the ways in which fiction can be a catalyst for sharing the stories of marginalized communities and informing readers through the lyricism of prose about unfamiliar worlds and cultures. Erdrich’s stories introduce us to the lived experience of Native American Indians, drawing ley lines between the past and present, telling stories of loss, fragmentation, community, and a searing quest for identity in the face of deliberate erasure. Edrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She opened Birchbark Books in her hometown of Minneapolis in 2001 to birth a space where Native American Voices could be discovered. Her bookstore features a robust collection of current and emerging Native Voices. Begin your introduction to Erdrich’s writings with the “Love Medicine Series.”
Set on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation, Love Medicine is an epic story about the intertwined fates of two families: the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. With astonishing virtuosity, each chapter of this stunning novel draws on various voices to lighten its tales. Black humor mingles with magic, injustice bleeds into betrayal, and through it all, bonds of love and family marry the elements into a tightly woven whole that pulses with the drama of life. Erdrich has written a multigenerational portrait of strong men and women caught in an unforgettable whirlwind of anger, desire, and the healing power of love medicine.
The Beet Queen covers the years from 1932 to 1972 and takes place primarily in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota. One of the story threads centers on Russell, a war hero, highlighting the presence of Native Americans in the US Military, their sacrifice, and the grudging acceptance they found there. In November 2020, the National Native American Veterans Memorial opened in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the Native heroes and their distinguished service to the US military.
Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance—yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. Tracks expose the tension – a thread throughout Erdrich’s novels – of traditional Indigenous culture and beliefs and Catholicism’s role in forcing assimilation and how the “old ways,” for some Native Indians, were abandoned to survive in a white Christian colonial society. Tracks characters also tell the stories of two significant epidemics that decimated the Ojibwe tribe; smallpox and tuberculosis.
The Bingo Palace was written shortly after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. At its essence, this story is about postcolonial capitalism, the gains and losses for the Indigenous community, and the complexities of casinos on reservation land. It is also a tale of spiritual death and reawakening; of money, desperate love, wild hope; and the enduring power of cherished dreams.
The final novel in the “Love Medicine Series” The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse, centers on Father Damien Modeste, who has served his beloved Native American tribe, the Ojibwe, on the remote reservation of Little No Horse, for over fifty years. Now, nearing the end of his life, Father Damien dreads the discovery of his physical identity, for he is a woman who has lived as a man. Deftly Erdrich weaves a story through the lens of a gender-fluid priest who questions the very roots of his belief system; sent to the reservation to convert, he finds within Indigenous spirituality acceptance unavailable within Catholicism while also being honored by that very system for his “good” work with the Ojibwe people.