Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Birchbark House

by Louise Erdrich

This story of Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl, is set in 1847, on an island in Lake Superior. It describes the family's life over the course of a year: the abundance of food in the summer, the near starvation of an unusually harsh winter, the loss of loved ones to smallpox. The prose is elegant, but unsparing. Descriptions of the family's work as the seasons unfold are detailed and interesting. Laura Ingalls Wilder said that she began her Little House series to describe a way of life that was vanishing. This book stands in valuable counterpoint to her presentation of the white settler's perspective with its portrait of Ojibwa life during the same period.

Even without the historical perspective, though, this book would be a worthwhile story of a young girl growing up. Omakayas is an intriguing character in her own right. The hardships she suffers and the maturity she eventually gains are written with deep empathy that never sentimentalizes or trivializes her experience.

I learned from the dust jacket that Louise Erdrich is herself a member of an Ojibwa tribe, and that the book was written as she researched her family's history with her mother. This doubtless accounts for the way this book rings true on every page. I recommend it highly.



Blogger zelda said...

Sounds lovely...I need to google the author...her name rings a bell.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

She's written books for adults as well, including the prize-winning Love Medicine.

I actually like this book better than Love Medicine.

She has written a sequel; apparently this is going to be a series.

6:46 PM  

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