STARRED REVIEW
August 2016

Native life on the prairie

By Louise Erdrich
Review by
For readers unfamiliar with Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series, Makoons, the fifth book, is a fine place to start, standing well on its own while continuing the narrative. Think Little House on the Prairie from a Native-American point of view.
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For readers unfamiliar with Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series, Makoons, the fifth book, is a fine place to start, standing well on its own while continuing the narrative.

Think Little House on the Prairie from a Native-American point of view. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Erdrich seamlessly blends fascinating details of everyday life and historical facts about an Ojibwe tribe living in the Great Plains of Dakota Territory in 1866.

While the series’ first three books center on a girl named Omakayas, books four and five follow her twin sons, Chickadee and Makoons. In book five, Makoons has largely recovered from a serious illness that developed while his brother was kidnapped, and now these two reunited halves of one soul are learning to be buffalo hunters. The book starts with Makoons’ ominous vision that he and his brother will become strong hunters, but will never be able to return to their beloved homeland back east and will be able to help save some, but not all, of their family. Despite these forebodings, Makoons is never bleak or harsh. Its twin heroes are playful young men who love a good prank, which means there’s plenty of fun in their saga.

After the big hunt, while everyone is turning 30 killed buffalo into food, hides and more, Makoons and Chickadee adopt an orphaned buffalo calf. The brothers name him Fly, and his ultimate fate adds to the novel’s many tightly woven threads.

It’s no wonder Erdrich’s writing is so authentic; her maternal great-grandfather was part of some of the last buffalo hunts along the Milk River in Montana. Erdrich also includes her own illustrations and a glossary and pronunciation guide of Ojibwe words.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Makoons

Makoons

By Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins
ISBN 9780060577933

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