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Birchbark Blog

Hidden Lives

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, January 22, 2017

After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, my daily walks are an entirely different experience.  I see the details of a tree's struggle, the tree's heroic attempt to repair a slashed limb, to repel invaders, or how so often a root flare buried by a careless landscaper will eventually suffocate the strongest.  I see how hard it is to live on a boulevard and not in a forest composed of  myriad types of tree with a magical underground connection that can choose to harden against invaders or to sustain young trees with extra food. The Hidden Life of Trees is a marvel of understanding and science. 

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, still haunts me.  A novel of charismatic truth where reality feels like myth and myth is history.  A young woman and her ancestors live, and do not live, through the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Gorgeous storytelling.  

 

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Not Winter Reading

Louise Erdrich - Monday, November 28, 2016

November rains and a stormy outlook. Time to plunge into a contradictory reading spree -- first Svetlana Alexievich's extraordinary work, Secondhand Time, an oral history that encompasses every emotion from extreme sorrow to the most tender love. This book of contemporary Russian voices and Soviet history is not for the faint of heart. So, when my heart went faint from descriptions of what is to live in that grand and tragic country, I turned to Amor Towles. His novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, is also about Russian/Soviet history but from the point of view of a most fortunate man. Our hero, Count Rostov, isn't executed in the first pages but instead is confined for life to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. This is an old fashioned sort of romance, filled with delicious detail. Save this precious book for times you really, really want to escape reality. 

Back to reality -- I have resisted picking up Atul Gawande's Being Mortal for quite a while now because of the title, which would imply mortality. Once I began reading this important book I could not stop. It addresses, without fear, questions we all ask in our hearts but rarely voice. And it gives a person the tools to begin talking about . . . mortality. One's own, one's cherished family.  I gave this book to everybody in my family. Not as a Christmas gift -- I must admit it would be a downer to receive this book as a Christmas gift. But give it to yourself because you deserve clarity.

Somehow I missed talking about Ann Patchett's wonderfully human Commonwealth. Her first chapter is one of the best I've ever read -- leading to a kiss that is one of the best kisses I've ever read. The engaging and headlong family story that follows sweeps you up -- you won't stop reading until it puts you down.      

Comments
Dave Clemens commented on 09-Jan-2017 09:12 AM
I was disgracefully late in coming to Ann Patchett's work, but I recently started to catch up with Bel Canto, which I loved. Now based on your recommendation, Louise, I've put Commonwealth at the top of my list of next reads, to dig into as soon as my wife and I finish reading LaRose aloud together. (I read it for myself months ago.)
Barbara Suter commented on 27-Mar-2017 10:47 PM
My very special time...just for me...is when I crawl into my bed each night and read another chapter or two of LaRose. I received the book as a Christmas gift because my husband knows how much I love your writing, Louise. When I am done, this book will join the dozen or so other Louise Erdrich books on my bookshelf. When I read your books I step into another world with characters I've grown to love. Congratulations, by the way, on winning the National Book Award. I can't think of anyone as deserving for the consistent love you share of your culture through your writing.
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Day Three – I’m Still With Her

Louise Erdrich - Saturday, November 12, 2016
Dear Hillary,

Thank you for running an honorable campaign. Thank you for speaking to what is best in us as humans, and as Americans. Thank you for repeatedly including everybody. Thank you for your grace under the burden of ugliness, the pressure of hate.

I never thought that I would miss this campaign, but I do. I miss watching you fight the good fight. I miss the joy. I miss the hope.

You inspired me by sticking to intelligent, practical, experience-born responses to the real problems that face us. You offered a tough but welcoming face of America to the world. As a mother of four daughters, a writer, a bookstore owner and a Native American, I gained strength from the example of your resilience and composure.

My daughter Pallas and I met you when you stopped in Minneapolis. We were thrilled. We gushed, “You are our warrior!” You smiled and gripped our hands. You exuded warmth. I wanted to hang out with you and have a beer, and I don’t even drink beer.

On the morning after the election, everything felt flat, and strange. It wasn’t just grief, it was fear. It was haunting to walk the streets, go to the grocery, do simple things. There was always that question: is that person filled with hate? Contempt? Or maybe that person? It was worse in the schools, where some students felt emboldened to make racist comments, to harass girls, to let out their ugly side.

My oldest daughter Persia teaches kindergarten in a Native language immersion school on a reservation. One of her students said she knew our next president was a “wall builder” and she was scared. She didn’t know which side of the wall she would be on.

For women of all ages on day one, a sense of confidence and joy drained out of us. We shut down, tried to cope. And of course we did our jobs. At midnight, in tears, I found myself on your website buying more Hillary buttons and signs. Irrational. I already have plenty of Hillary swag!

On day two, things began to change. A sense of all that we have to fight for came back to us. A conviction that now all of our work is more important than ever. Work our staff does at the bookstore to build awareness of climate change. Work to build understanding between people of every race. Words from your concession speech helped -- fighting for what is right is always worthwhile. Your loyal belief in the best of America, not the worst.

Thank you for your commitment to clean energy. Thank you for fighting for a future of our children, for the legions of diverse plants and animals that keep us all healthy, and deserve to live as they were created, by a force we do not comprehend.

Day two seemed to last forever though, I kept faltering. How to answer questions from people in other countries? Our national temper tantrum was now installed in our highest office. Shame crawled up inside of me. I told myself that having a bookstore where, through literature, we can inhabit hearts and minds different from our own, is important. I reminded myself that listening my 15 year old daughter’s wisdom, supporting her and other young women, especially Native women, was important. My daughter Aza has a baby, my grandson. Helping him learn that a man’s strength is expressed by his respect for women, that’s important. I wrestled with accepting that although you won the popular vote, so many other voters, 25% of Americans, were choosing racism, intolerance, contempt for women, and maybe most dangerous of all, volatile inexperience.

By the end of day two, Pallas asked me to write this letter and post it on this page. She said that it would reach a lot of people and that you might read it. My brother told me that some people are angry, blaming, and that it is a stage of grief. So I’m writing a letter on day three to say what is true. You are the most experienced candidate for president we’ve ever had. There was no better candidate. You ran into a wall of hate, but you got up again, time after time. Never lost your wits, your cool. Nobody else could have done that.

Though in frail health this summer, my father, Ralph, always wore a flower in his hat. As he walked laboriously around the neighborhood, he stopped people to campaign for you. My mother Rita, 83, always keeping Ralph steady, filled out her ballot with the pride of a Native women who had worked all her life to teach her daughters fortitude, her son’s kindness. She finally had a woman as strong as herself to vote for.

On day three I’m so thankful for what you showed us. Truth. Resilience. Honor. Expertise. You are our champion. Maybe you didn’t know that even if you lost, you would still be our champion. All along, you were showing us how to get through life without you as our President.

As you gave your concession speech, with Bill behind you, I thought: she is so much stronger than the men who have won the presidency. She is doing the right thing, but she is not defeated. She models power even in her loss.

At the age of 91, Ralph Erdrich promised that he would live to vote for you. He has. He is still living in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He is still for you. I am still for you. Mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, children, friends – we are still for you, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We don’t know what you will do next, but we’ll be there.

It’s day three. Time to dust ourselves off, stand up, begin.

Time to make America proud again.

Yours truly,

Louise
Comments
Melissa Mulreanu commented on 07-Dec-2016 01:17 PM
Thank you for speaking the truth so beautifully. Despite everything that has occurred, Hope and truth remain. Hard work is available to all of us to step up and perform. The loss can serve to inspire us.
craig stewart commented on 15-Dec-2016 08:25 PM
Thanks Louise. many of us here in the UK have watched with sadness as the US result became evident. we have seen the outcome of our own Brexit vote in the hate and racism that has come to be countennced here since the summer, I know that in the US there are much darker sides to such things. but now we can see what we stand against, it is out in the open and wherever we are in this world we can and must be inspired never to despair too much, never give up. We have to hope! So, I hope that you in your beautiful land will remember that as we must here, anywhere where despair seems to be gaining ground.
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