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Birchbark Blog

Power of Spring

Louise Erdrich - Thursday, April 14, 2016
Even though this was yet again a record setting warm winter, spring still has its power and the first few days of warmth are disorientingly heady.  Before I start living outside again I have to write about one book that got me through the indefinite days of ice last month.  A Different Kind of Daughter, by Maria Toorpakai and with Katherine Holstein, is subtitled the Girl Who Hid From the Taliban In Plain Sight.  It is one of the most wrenching memoirs I've read.  The story is about a family who refuses to abandon its women to the terrifying measures of tribal law, and how one daughter defies the society into which she is born (and which she also treasures).  She breaks gender taboos in order to become a world class athlete.  Every page is gripping and Toorpakai is one of the most engagingly stubborn people I've ever read about -- her entire family is composed of a singular toughness.  This is a book for parents to read with their daughters and sons -- a kind of all family read that will reward everyone with a piercing look into the lives of extraordinarily courageous people who are also altogether human in their daily decisions, feasts, trials, squabbles, and intense loyalty.

Pearlman, Lispector, Enright

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dear Book Lovers,

Three writers have dominated my month -- Edith Pearlman (again), Anne Enright and Clarice Lispector.  Although I have some assigned reading to do, I've been escaping frequently into Binocular Vision, The Green Road, and Lispector's Complete Stories.  From Edith Pearlman this paragraph, "Into the slot she dropped.  She fell smoothly and painlessly, her hair streaming above her head.  She landed well below the water's surface on a mossy floor.  Toenails still there?  Yes, and the handkerchief in the pocket of her jeans.  A small crowd advanced, some in evening clothes, some in costume." 

Where are we?  So delicious and strange. 

Anne Enright: "Rosaleen was a nightmare.  She was very difficult.  She was increasingly difficult.  She made her children cry."

Clarice Lispector:  "The light in the room then seemed yellower and richer, the people older.  The children were already hysterical."

I will just say that these are marvelous reads, treasures, sharply funny, deadly sad, and that I hope you have the chance to read any one of them.

As for this other book -- Voices in the Ocean, A journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey -- what a surprise.  My daughter plucked it out of the advanced reader copy pile but I didn't open it because the cover looked like a Lisa Frank backpack or first grade notebook cover.  I like the illustrator Lisa Frank okay for elementary school swag, but this book deserves a truly unsettling cover -- something that gives a sense of its profoundly urgent content.  It also deserves a good title -- for instance many people read The Soul of the Octopus on the strength of its cover and title.  I read it too.  Not bad.  But this book!  Gracious.  Voices in the Ocean?  So vague.  This book is by turns jaw-dropping, tragic, funny, lit with love.  I kept it with me for two days, turning to it between volleyball points, school pickups, and I even took it on a dog walk.  Susan Casey is a talented science reporter, and I grew to admire her skills and bravery so thoroughly that I went dizzy when she stepped onto a harrowing boat in the Solomon Islands and took a gut-clenching ride -- just a friendly visit to dolphin murderers who killed 1,000 dolphins in a day.  She wisely travels between beauty and brutality, between research and folklore.  She goes to The Cove (Taiji, Japan, where dolphin snacks are sold to eat during dolphin shows).  She travels to Dolphinville, where people swim and commune with pods of dolphins in ecstatic communion.  She profiles dolphin rescuers and dolphin profiteers.  Often, the profiteers and murderers become so disturbed by the empathetic intelligence of their prey that they turn into the rescuers themselves.  By the end I knew what so many people feel -- the connection between our species is filled with meaning -- uncanny, powerful -- yet to be understood.

If you're looking for a book for an fuzzy wuzzy animal lover, this is not a cute book no matter what the cover may suggest.  Buy it anyway.  Read it yourself.  Voices in the Ocean is the furious and loving truth.  Plus, it is a fantastic adventure. 

Yours for Books,

 Louise

What Happened?

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sometimes spring flows by one blossoming tree after the next and then May 18 arrives and my book pile is still here, beside the computer, waiting to be written about before shelved. Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah begins with the loss of an intimately drawn character, and the complex family interactions that proceed quietly in the aftermath.  Although composed of small occurrences, intricate adjustments, the book is riveting in its fidelity to each character's subtle renovation. Euphoria by Lily King is splendidly told. A brilliant, talented, magnetic female anthropologist is coveted by two men, one profane and without conscience, the other possessing too much conscience to be effective.  I read it all in one happily exhausted night. 

The Evil Hours by David J. Morris, a Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is both elegant and profoundly urgent. Morris, a former Marine and war correspondent in Iraq, writes of his own experience, "I came to think of myself as devoted to a sort of Kabbalah, a cult of one whose mission it was to discover what the others had missed, the pattern hidden in the loom, the hand of God . . . "  In the wake of trauma, Morris goes on to observe, this need to make sense of things becomes an obsession. This book does exactly that only in a moving, human, self-revealing way that grounds the reader in the writer's experience, and the dramatically drawn experiences of historical heroes and victims. It taught me something new, and defined for me much that is mysterious about the ever changing labyrinth of traumatic memory.

 


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