07 March 2015

Traveling in another's mind

Louise Erdrich's little book, Books and Island in Ojibwe Country, didn't remind me of Dostoyevsky. It reminded me of Malcolm X's account of his pilgrimage to Mecca. It wasn't so much the enlightenment of the travel as the sense of sacredness and the repetition of ritual that made me think of the journey to a far away desert place.

She begins by describing the trees around her home in Minneapolis, all of which she's named. Then she travels north to a big lake.

Erdrich went by boat to islands in Lake of the Woods, that huge lake on the border between Canada and the US. There are hundreds of islands in the lake, many of them with rocky cliffs around their edges. And many of those cliffs are home to ancient paintings left by Ojibwe people. The creatures and the symbols in those paintings are still familiar to many people in the ancient Ojibwe homeland.

Copper Thunderbird, also known as Norval Morrisseau, was an Ojibwe artist whose works were based on the cliff paintings. They are marvels of color and shape, but they speak of the Ojibwe past and magic.
Mishipzheu on a cliff face
Morriseau's drawing

The bench, a featured facility
After reflecting on the ancient images, Erdrich meets a friend to begin a retreat at Ernest Olberholtzer's old home on Rainy Lake. There, she reflects on books and paintings and writing and perserving identity and the past. Oh, and on birds as well.

Throughout the journey, Erdrich's  infant daughter is her companion. Her daughter is an active and living connection with the future. Caring for her makes time for reflections of the past to project into her future.

And then Erdrich returns to her home near, you should have guessed, Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. That's when she discovers that some of her precious trees, including the last elm have been blown down by a huge storm.

It's a book about nothing but life. And a journey to sacred places and times remembered and foreseen. It was a great pleasure to read it. Go for it.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Louise Erdrich wins Library of Congress fiction prize

Minnesota author Louise Erdrich will be awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction...

Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement that Erdrich's novels have uniquely explored the cultural challenges faced by Native Americans and mixed-race Americans...

The Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction is "meant to honor an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination." Previous winners of the fiction prize include novelists E.L. Doctorow and Don Delillo.