The Plague of Doves
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Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of the Dove brings to mind my husband’s broken-tile, found-object mosaics. They are a complex work of art, better appreciated after the history behind each piece is understood. With magical imagery, Erdrich’s vivid characters lead us down a suspenseful trail.
In 1911 in the small town of Pluto off the South Dakota reservation, an entire family—except for a baby—is murdered. “Four Indians including a boy called Holy Track were blamed,” and the innocent quartet is lynched by a mob of white settlers.
Through the characters’ point of view, the reader is pulled back and forth in time like a magnet. The story begins with Grandfather Mooshun recalling when he was a boy, that both Chippewa Métis and the Norwegian and German settlers fought the plague of doves that crushed their homes and decimated their crops.
When he is an old man, and there is “mixed-blood” within the community, Mooshun tells his granddaughter Evelina about the lynching. As she moves through life, she interacts with others whose relatives were involved in some way with the event. Years later, she uncovers the truth about her grandfather’s shocking role in the Pluto incident.
Meanwhile, Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, also “mixed-blood,” lays out the background of the settlers. His grandfather, it turns out, was one of the original settlers on the first expedition. As a lawyer for both sides, he is privy to private information. As the story unfolds the various characters’ family connection to the lynching surface. We explore their personal conflicts—sexual encounters, a lesbian affair, murder, suicide, and a kidnapping. Marn Wolde sleeps with snakes: “I gave them the lovely heat, the flat rocks, the black rocks, the steady beating of the sun.” Evelina’s father, a science teacher, is obsessed with his stamp collection.
We follow the sound of a violin, Erdich’s metaphor. Mooshun’s brother, a young boy, is called to the river by a spirit. His life changes when he finds a violin afloat in a canoe set adrift decades before by the leaders of the first settlers. The violin changes hands and saves a boy’s life. Later its music becomes a fatal attraction.
This literary novel, rich with images and dialogue, is difficult to set aside. Erdrich has written over a dozen books, novel, non-fiction and children’s books. However, this could be her best.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla