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Just read the last two Louise Erdrich novels, the 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winning 'The Night Watchman' and the just published 'The Sentence.' Both novels deal with discrimination against Native Americans. Erdrich may be America's finest living writer. 'The Night Watchman' is a fictionalized account of Erdrich's grandfather's fight against Native dispossession, specifically the “emancipation” bill of the early 1950s that sought to abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans in yet another attempt in the U.S. government's centuries long attempt to 'civilize' and assimilate Native Americans. The bill called for the eventual termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chipewa, Erdrich's tribe.'The Sentence' is the story of Tookie, a Native American sentenced to a harsh prison term who is pardoned after being incarcerated for ten years. Tookie was the smartest in her high school class, a young woman who made a bad decision, who reads while in prison -- first a dictionary and then other works -- and gets a job in a retail bookstore called Birchbark Books. In the real world, Birchbark Books is the bookstore owned by Louise Erdrich and the owner and proprietor of this fictional Birchbark Books is named Louise, is a well-known writer, and looks like Louise Erdrich. An exceptionally timely and yet epic tale of a people, a plague, and a personal journey, 'The Sentence' is a also a lovely ode to literature and booksellers. Louise Erdrich blends reality with farce, stirring in political commentary, reflections on social injustice and motherhood to give us a powerful, insightful novel that is richly connected to family, community, and spirituality. She has a keen eye of detail, a wonderful way of storytelling that is at turns heart-wrenching, funny, challenging, and distressing. The novel takes place between All Soul's Day in 2019 to All Soul's Day in 2020, and is a spiritual journey about rebirth and ghosts as well as a book about books and book shops, peppered with titles and authors' names. This may also become the best novel of the COVID-19 pandemic.Both novels reflect on the many ways that White America has stolen from Native Americans, has tried to exterminate them, has broken its promises and continues -- to this day -- to discriminate against them. I have not seen either title on the currently circulating 'suggested banned books' lists but these novels will trigger anyone who doesn't want people to be exposed to the discrimination against Native Americans that has left them impoverished, ignored, or forgotten. Before I leave you with the impression that these are depressing, preachy novels, they are nothing of the kind... the 'Native oppression' elements are actually rather sparse in 'The Sentence' and both novels are more about families, love, and human nature. In short, two wonderful novels.
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