Who wrote this book and when?
Louise Erdrich wrote this in 2001.
Has there been a film made from this book?
Who are the main characters?
Father Damian/Agnes – a woman who has taken on the profession of a priest in order to be closer to God and to serve other people
Sister Leopolda/Pauline Puyat II – an Ojibwe woman being investigated for sainthood, possibly controlled by the devil
Mary Kashpaw – Ojibwe woman who helps take care of Father Damian
Nanapush – an old man who is against Christianity but is one of Father Damian’s closest friends
Father Jude – a priest sent from the Vatican to investigate Sister Leopolda
What’s it about?
A woman named Agnes who transforms herself into the priest Father Damian and then travels to minister to the Ojibwe People. Through out her life, she is witness to several miracles and struggles with amnesia and the firm belief she has made a deal with Satan. She also is troubled when the Vatican sends someone to investigate a woman named Sister Leopolda who has been nominated for sainthood. However, Father Damian believes Leopolda’s power comes from the devil instead of God.
Why is this book a classic?
This book is mainly considered a modern classic because of the woman who wrote it. Louise Erdrich is best known for her insight on the subject of the Ojibwe Indians. She incorporates much of their history and belief systems/mythology into all of her writing.
Why should I read this book?
To test your ideas of what’s right and wrong, what your beliefs truly stand for, and the difference between moral absolute and tradition. It’s also a pretty dang good fictional biography.
Has it won any awards?
It was a finalist for the National Book Award.
“She merely closed her eyes, drifted, came to no shore, drifted farther, until she was somewhere new.” – p114
“There was stillness, the whisper of snow grains driven along the surface of the world. It was the silence of before creation, the comfort of pure nothing, and she let herself go into it until, in that quiet, she was caught hold of by a dazzling sweetness. In the grip of this sudden, sumptuous bloom of that feeling, Agnes rose and walked toward a poor cabin just behind the log church.” – p 65
“Having dragged army caissons through hip-deep mud after the horses died in torment, having seen his best friend suddenly uncreated into a mass of shrieking pulp, having lived intimately with the pouring tumults of eager lice and rats plump with horrifying food, he was rudimentarily prepared for the suffering he would experience in love.” – p18
Nearly every one of Erdrich’s works has been nominated for some sort of award.
As always, I enjoy the poetry of Louise Erdrich’s writing. Not only is she the master of retelling the history of certain people, but she does so with a simplistic grace. This is the second of her works which I’ve read and each has only served to deepen my respect for the Ojibwe people. However, this book deals both with Ojibwe life, belief, culture as well as the Catholic faith. Each person we are introduced to is presented with another individual who challenges their faith – whether it’s in Jesus, Mary, or the spirit world.
I found Agnes and Father Damian’s tale intriguing, not only because of it’s controversial nature but because the huge secret made them more human to me. The priest wasn’t placed on a higher or lower pedestal than anyone else. Each character in the novel was simply themselves, no glorification or attempt at painting them a villain. Erdrich has a talent for making each of her characters seem to be someone living out of time but at the same time possibly right next door.