A man’s novel full of nature lore and the mechanics of hunting and surviving, but also richly poetic and emotionally...

ORDINARY WOLVES

A first novel, a Milkweed National Fiction Prize winner, offers an unsentimental yet very passionate take on the collision of Eskimo and white culture, as well as the encroachment of materialistic civilization on Alaska’s unspoiled wilderness at the end of the 20th century.

After his mother flees back to the Lower 40 never to return, Cutuk (Calvin) is raised along with his older sister and brother by his father, Abe, in an igloo in northern Alaska. Abe’s attempt to live intimately with nature, with as few civilized distractions as possible, makes him an oddity not only among his educated peers but to the native Inupiaq residents of the nearby village of Takunak, who are happy to accept accouterments of modern life like TVs and snowmobiles. Under his father’s tutelage, Cutuk grows up steeped in knowledge of and love for the natural world but also finds himself wanting to fit in with a community. After home-schooling, Cutuk finishes high school in Takunak, where he falls in love with Dawna, the granddaughter of his idol Enuk Wolfglove, who disappeared while hunting wolves. But, in the village, Cutuk feels like a second-class citizen because he’s white. As a lonely young man, he decides to explore the city life that has drawn away his siblings. His brother has moved to Fairbanks, while his sister has attended college in Anchorage (though she ends up a teacher in Takunak). While the myriad details, complete with glossary, about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness and the daily village life among the Inupiaq are engrossing, Kantner’s description of Anchorage through Cutuk’s innocent yet intelligent eyes is equally compelling. After years in the city, Cutuk, with mixed results, returns to Takunak. He eventually finds himself back on the land, alone but with Dawna’s future companionship a possibility.

A man’s novel full of nature lore and the mechanics of hunting and surviving, but also richly poetic and emotionally engrossing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-57131-044-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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