Synopses & Reviews
Set in North Dakota at a time in the past century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, 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. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality.
"This is Louise Erdrich's third and, to my mind, best novel. It is narrated from alternating perspectives by Nanapush, a middle-aged survivor of the Anishinabe tribe who remembers 'the last buffalo hunt ... the last bear shot' by his kinsmen, and Pauline, an Anishinabe who becomes a Catholic nun; they represent two possible futures (tribal renewal and Christianity) of the Ojibwa Nation in the early-20th century. The focus of the novel, however, is Fleur Pillager, who embodies the old myths, ways, and beliefs—like Caddy, though, Fleur is here and yet not here. She's the focus of Erdrich's beautifully lyric language—and a symbol for each character of the Other he or she cannot be." Reviewed by Heather Morton, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Set in the early 1900s, Tracks follows a North Dakota Indian tribe and its struggle to keep their land out of the hands of an encroaching white society.
About the Author
Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage: German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer. She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).
The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.
She is the author of four previous bestselling and award-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.
Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss some of the legends that surround Fleur (her multiple deaths by drowning; her connection to Misshepeshu; her strange powers; her beauty). How do these tales contribute to her identity among the Ojibwe?
2. Describe Nanapush. To whom does he narrate his tale? How does he help Eli Kashpaw in his efforts to romance Fleur Pillager? How would you characterize his relationship with Margaret Kashpaw?
3. What does Pauline Puyat witness in Argus that makes her feel a kinship with Fleur? Why does she go to live with the Morrisseys? What motivates her to interfere in Fleur's relationship with Eli Kashpaw?
4. Where does Pauline's fascination with religion lead her? Do you interpret her powers as spiritually guided, or demonic?
5. Why do Boy Lazarre and Clarence Morrissey waylay Nanapush and Margaret? How does such violence arise among neighbors? Were you surprised by the outcomes of this dispute?
6. Describe the hunger that the Kashpaws and Pillagers experience in the winter. When they move to Machimanito to conserve on travel and on food, how does Pauline re-enter their lives? How is she treated? What is her role in this family?
7. How do the pressures of the outside world (annual fee lists, foreclosures, allotments) affect Fleur, Nanapush, and the Kashpaws? How do they resolve to save their land from the agent and other outsiders?
8. How does Margaret Kashpaw feel about Fleur Pillager? How does she treat her when she discovers that Eli is intimate with her? What role does she play in Fleur's first and second pregnancies?
9. How does Fleur punish the lumber company for daring to strip her land of its trees? Discuss the end of Tracks. How did you interpret Lulu's return to Nanapush and Margaret?