This is the third book I’ve read by Erdrich which focuses on the Ojibwa Indians of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in north central North Dakota. I fell in love with Erdrich and this series with “Love Medicine” which I read twice, back-to-back, and have continued through the books “Four Souls” and Tracks.” The books are not written in chronological order but are about the same families, characters and situations as they developed over a period of about 100 years ( a guess) between 1890s or so to late 1980s? . The stories within the books are not told in a linear manner either so it all works together.
In The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Erdrich explores the missionary work of Father Damien Modeste, first known as Sister Cecilia and Agnes DeWitt (yes, and not a spoiler as this is known very early in the book) who has made brief appearances in the other novels.
Father Damien worked at the reservation mission for decades and now, close to dying, he has written to the Pope once again, this time to request absolution and to nominate Sister Leopolda, aka Pauline Puyat, for sainthood of some kind. And so Father Jude Miller has come to the reservation to investigate the claims that suggest Sister Leopolda might qualify. The narrative follows the story of Father Damien and the invetigations of Father Jude as well as that of some of Father Damien’s parishioners.
What could be bleaker or more desolate than a northern North Dakota Indian Reservation in the winter around the time of the Spanish Flu (1919 or so)? Not much, I reckon, and that’s where the ministry of of Father Damien and the miracles of Sister Leopolda take place. Yet Erdrich writes with excruciating precision and humor, so full of love, compassion that the bleakness is not what stands out. Behind and beneath and between and within the tales of poverty and violence are stories of Erdrich’s main theme – love.
What is the whole of our existence but the sound of appalling love?”
This is also, on one level, a tale of how the natives lost all, land, life, culture, their very souls in some cases, to the white man’s ways.
The narrative is comprised of interwoven stories sometimes related to the miracles of Sister Leopolda and those who knew her best, other times the tales are just of assorted miracles – or is it magical realism? Whatever – it works and I’m a happy fan.