After a hunting accident that kills a neighbor's 5-year- old son, Landreaux and Emmeline Iron make amends following ancient Ojibwe custom and give their own 5- year-old son, LaRose, to the grieving family. Nola and Peter Ravich aren't members of the tribe and live off the reservation, which is a complication in and of itself, and they're also LaRose's aunt and uncle. Having LaRose gives Nola Ravich a reason to get out of bed in the morning, but his presence doesn't solve any of her problems. Suicidal, constantly at odds with her preteen daughter, resentful and jealous of her half-sister Emmeline, Nola's life is a series of outbursts and bleak moments. The Iron family is barely holding it together themselves, between missing LaRose and coming to terms with the fact that Landreaux was the one who shot Dusty Ravich. Their stories are woven around equally complicated narratives about the other members of the Ojibwe tribe who live on the reservation in rural North Dakota. Drug use is rampant. Times are tough. Even the town's priest is in trouble. But the one bright point in the entire saga is LaRose, who is part of a long line of LaRoses in his family, all who are said to have been born with the ability to heal. At times his gentle soul and mature insights seem to be the only thing holding both families together.
Louise Erdrich weaves a masterful tale that incorporates tribal histories, like the boarding schools to which the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent children in an attempt to get them off reservations and force them to assimilate, and gives readers a picture of what life is like on reservations today. Each plot thread echoes the same tones. Despair, poverty, addiction, violence. But there is also strength, both in LaRose's quiet determination and in the strength of his ancestors, whose stories are also heard. There's hope, played out through the stories of LaRose's siblings and their determination to succeed in school and other endeavors. All in all, it's a satisfying family saga that ends on a poignant and cautiously optimistic note.
Reviewed by BA, 06/16. Other reviews by BA.