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Set earliest in time within the cycle of her prizewinning and bestselling books, Love Medicine and The Beet Queen, Tracks takes readers to North Dakota at a time when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their land. Features many familiar characters.

226 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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About the author

Louise Erdrich

132 books9,658 followers
Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

For more information, please see http://www.answers.com/topic/louise-e...

From a book description:

Author Biography:

Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage: German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer. She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).

The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.

She is the author of four previous bestselling andaward-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.

Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 787 reviews
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,306 reviews751 followers
December 17, 2015
A tribe of chicken-scratch that can be scattered by a wind, diminished to ashes by one struck match.
You wouldn't make a Disney movie out of genocide, would you? Then why does Pocahontas exist? I was only recently led to this argument by the Internet, and it is yet another of many that I wished I had come across much, much, much earlier.

This book has the whole 'magical realism' thing going on, like so many other pieces of work not written by white people, who have their fantasy, their postmodernism, their everything but. It is an overarching commentary on the laughable quality of superstition, myth, anything not adhering to the straight and narrow of physics, biology, science at large, but manages to never beg the question of institutional bias. We spend our lifetimes evaluating ourselves with pieces of paper, and scoff at those who cannot comprehend the simple art of bureaucracy.
New devils require new gods.
It is a matter of my childhood having been steeped in so much horseshit without a single living being to attest to the contrary. Girl Scout like Indian Maidens of my elementary years, dreamcatchers bought in dollar stores, a Wendigo as a particular stirring episode in a horror-themed television show without a hint of the word Algonquian, or Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Cree, Naskapi, Innu. Compromised as these words are by colonial tongue, you cannot grasp the privileged ignorance of indoctrination without the language that inherently exposes the lie; you cannot break your belief without reasoning why.
"You must think of their unyielding surfaces as helpful," he offered. "God sometimes enters the soul through the humblest parts of our anatomies, if they are sensitized to suffering."
"A god who enters through the rear door," I countered, "is no better than a thief."
A piece of paper declares, if you stray here and attempt to live, we have the right to kill you. A piece of paper insinuates, if your biology proves incompatible with our lifestyles, we are not required to heal you. A forest falls from ocean to ocean to provide for many pieces of paper, birthed by colonial mindset, maintained by conqueror's brainwashing, proven by death and destruction, famine and rape, rotting of the bone and rat race of the mind. To fight is to become a monster by strength of belief, to survive is to self-efface by poison of thought, to suffer is a given. If that is not magic, I don't know what is.
They were moving. It was as old Nanapush had said when we sat around the stove. As a young man, he had guided a buffalo expedition for whites. He said the animals understood what was happening, how they were dwindling. He said that when the smoke cleared and the hulks lay scattered everywhere, a day's worth of shooting for only the tongues and hides, the beasts that survived grew strange and unusual. They lost their minds. They bucked, screamed and stamped, tossed the carcasses and grazed on flesh. They tried their best to cripple one another, to fall or die. They tried suicide. They tried to do away with their young. They knew they were going, saw their end. He said while the whites all slept through the terrible night he kept watch, that the groaning never stopped, that the plains below him was alive, a sea turned against itself, and when the thunder came, then and only then, did the madness cease. He saw their spirits slip between the lightning sheets.
I saw the same. I saw the people I had wrapped, the influenza and consumption dead whose hands I had folded. They traveled, lame and bent, with chests darkened from the blood they coughed out of their lungs, filing forward and gathering, taking a different road. A new road. I saw them dragging one another in slings and litters. I saw their unborn children hanging limp or strapped to their backs, or pushed along in front hoping to get the best place when the great shining doors, beaten of air and gold, swung open on soundless oiled fretwork to admit them all.
Christ was there, of course, dressed in glowing white.
"What shall I do now?" I asked. "I've brought You so many souls!"
And He said to me, gently:
"Fetch more."

To live.
Profile Image for Brina.
899 reviews4 followers
January 4, 2021
Louise Erdrich is an authority on indigenous people, having writing novels for over thirty years. I first discovered her work in high school when I did not have the life experience to appreciate the depth of her work. Last year I decided to make Erdrich one of my preferred authors, and this year I will be reading at least one of her books a quarter until I eventually finish the works of hers that I am interested in. The group catching up on classics decided on a buddy read of Tracks, the book that chronologically takes place first in Erdrich’s myriad tales about the Objiwe people of northern North Dakota. I joined in with this buddy read, excited to kick off my exploration of Erdrich’s works in this new year.

Before most indigenous people moved to town and called Argus, North Dakota their home, many families still lived in the surrounding forests, free from the encroachment of government agents. It is 1914 and the Nanapush, Kapshaw, and Pillager family members who have survived a few winters of diseases still call Lake Matchimanito and surrounding areas home. The book has two narrators, the first of which Nanapush, no first name given, is the patriarch of the remaining clans. He has buried three wives and countless children but is willing to call any young person his nephew or niece, bestowing on them his lifetime of knowledge, should anyone desire to take him up on his offer of family. Although rooted to the past, Nanapush realizes that a day will come when the government encroaches a little too far. He desires, no needs, a heir so that his family is ensured of keeping its land in the future. His recounting of tribal tales and herbal medicinal remedies is a fountain of information, but Nanapush realizes that most of the young people have an eye on the future, rather than the past. This becomes more and more evident over the course of the novel.

One young person who Nanapush saved from a tribal influenza outbreak is Pauline Puyat, who serves as the other narrator in the novel. Puyat is the only remaining member of her family and desires a clean break from her indigenous past. One summer, she spends in Argus when it was just a budding hamlet. She works at none other than Kozka’s meats, the setting for another story in this series one generation later. Readers meet Pete and Fritzie before they had any kids as well as Russell Kapshaw and Fleur Pillager, characters who resurface across the series’ story arc. After spending this summer in Argus, Pauline realizes that an indigenous life is not for her. She boards with the Morrissey family in town, smitten with Napoleon, and ends up taking the vow of chastity as a nun. As one new to religion, it is evident that Pauline becomes self-righteous, most of her animosity directed at Fleur Pillager, her cousin and friend. Pauline attempts to pass herself off as white and denounces Nanapush and the Pillagers and Kapshaws, even though Russell was a cousin and friend, and Nanapush an adoptive uncle. This is not the future of the tribe that Nanapush envisioned, but Pauline desired another life, one that will resurface in other stories about the people who make this region home. Already the quirkiness that comes with the assimilation of later generations starts to appear her, reminding me why I enjoy Erdrich’s stories.

Some people view Erdrich’s writing to be full of magical realism. Fleur Pillager drowns three times yet lives. She supposedly can turn into an animal at will and her tracks in the forest change from person to animal and back to person. She is the one who has a relationship with the sea creature of Matchimanito and with her relative Moses concocts medicines, both curses and cures, to tame it. Yet, this is not magical realism; rather it is Erdrich writing about the indigenous way of life how it was lived before the encroachment of the white person, the life that Nanapush is determined to hold on to, Fleur being his lone “niece” who listens to him the most, although is her own person through and through. It is this contrast between Fleur Pillager and Pauline Puyat that sustains both Tracks and future novels in this series as it splits between the Pillagers and Kapshaws who hang on to indigenous practices in the forest and the Morrisseys and Lazarres who adopt the way of the Caucasians by living in town in Argus. No character is intriguing as Fleur, however, because she is the archetype of an indigenous person whereas eventually the rest of the characters in this novel begin to assimilate. Tracks only gives readers a taste of what will come later in the series, encouraging us to stay the course for novels about future generations.

A review on the book’s back cover notes that Louise Erdrich is for Native American writing what Philip Roth is for Jewish writing, Faulkner is for the South, and Toni Morrison is for African Americans, an authority on regionalism. Her writing, while not the first, has paved the way for more indigenous writers who are part of literary fiction today. With over twenty novels full of unique and quirky characters, I am with Erdrich for the long haul. I am excited to read more books featuring the characters in Tracks to see where their families end up in future generations.

4 star range
Profile Image for Brandon.
133 reviews9 followers
July 13, 2021
Because I loved reading William Faulkner in college, when I discovered in Louise Erdrich a similar depth of voice, honest characters and a consistent imaginative setting, I fell in love with her writing, too.

(In the interest of disclosing bias, I grew up in the farming town of Valley Center near several Indian reservations. The relationship of Argus to Matchimanito is close to what it’s like around Palomar Mountain, but that's another story.)

Tracks tells the history of Benign Neglect through the voices of two great but unreliable narrators: Pauline and Nanapush. As a homely Métis (mixed blood), Pauline succumbs to the worst of being someone caught between two cultures; it's an "invisible sickness" that we would probably recognize today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (6). Not only does she throw herself into religion, she throws herself so hard she damages everything she touches. Erdrich's use of dramatic irony in the shaping of Pauline would be relentless were it not that in Pauline contemporary mistakes of The Church are recognizable (Apparently, such crimes are eternal). Likewise, Grandpa Nanapush represents a contemporary telling of the mythological Nanabozho who is so clever he tricks himself.

In alternating chapters, Nanapush tells Lulu a story about her mother Fleur, a story intended to heal a rift, while Pauline tells one of the most perverse conversion stories ever. The paired voices of the narrators complement the plot of the novel that charts the near destruction of the tribe. This tribal point of view is perhaps Erdrich's greatest contribution. While it is true that Faulkner first attempted something like it with the Compson family in Sound & the Fury, Erdrich's use of the Métis reaches beyond the limits of a family and into the complications of ethnic identities. It’s through the polyphony of this tribal voice, including the Métis, that Erdrich has made a great contribution to literature.

I need to refrain from praising Tracks by itself because it is part of a "round," meaning that Erdich considers this novel part of a larger narrative that includes Love Medicine, Beet Queen and counting. In a meta-fictional passage from Tracks, Erdrich puts her apotheosis in the voice or Pauline, who says of a story told over and over by different storytellers, "It comes up different every time, and has no ending, no beginning" (31). The book is full of allusions to the terrible power of language that will also make Erdrich’s subsequent travelog Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country so poetic. For instance, the title “Tracks” seems to refer to language that leads back to our better selves. The quiet Fleur leaves "tracks" in the snow that change to the bear of her clan (12). Later, when Pauline goes on the death road with Fleur, there are "no lines, no tracks" (159). Pauline's actions on this night will lead to a terrible split in the tribe that will take generations to return from. It will be in the tracks through the round of novels that the tribe survives.

I've tried to describe as little as possible so as not to spoil the story but still give a sense of how big this 226-page novel is. I have the same condition Grandpa Nanapush had when tea, lard and bread healed him from the silence of going half-windigo: I'm pushing with too many of my own words (7). So let me back off and say Tracks got me started in the round of Erdrich’s wonderful novels. I hope the same for you.
Profile Image for Dani.
51 reviews469 followers
January 18, 2020
(Don’t say Tracks contains magical realism: a review)

Tracks takes place in a time when life is changing for Anishinaabeg: their land is being parcelled and sold, traditional ways of life are beginning to fade as Western religion spreads, children are being sent to residential schools and as white folk buy and settle on Indigenous soil, racism and violence spread while the landscape is pillaged for lumber.

Through Louise Erdrich’s skillful prose we are given a startling, intimate look into the poisonous effects of colonialism and the impact it had not only on native land but also on the Anishinaabe way of life and how nishnaabeg were forced to acclimate in order to survive.

This is a story that rings true for many Indigenous folk. I saw my people here. I felt their loss, their pain, but I also felt their strength and perseverance. I felt the characters connection to their ancestors and their teachings.
To Anishinaabeg, land was never something to be owned because it is our relation; the trees, the water, the animals that walk the earth and the spirits that dwell in the most secret of places, they are all our relations.

These views are still real to Anishinaabe today. Ask anybody on my reserve why they won’t whistle at night and they’ll tell you a story that you might be quick to label as magical realism if you read it in a book. It’s not. These beliefs & spirits are a sacred part of our culture.

If the story told in Tracks weren’t identical to what really occurred, if native land hadn’t been violently stolen, if colonizers had immigrated here instead of forcibly settling & imposing their worldview on all of Turtle Island, maybe I wouldn’t need to say this again and again. Maybe you would read works like this and see nothing to do with magical realism. Maybe Anishinaabe worldviews would be less romanticized and more realized.

Read Tracks. Read books like Tracks with an uncolonized view and more importantly don’t impose that view on Indigenous books & Indigenous people. Just because your people don’t honour lake spirits doesn’t mean others wouldn’t.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,689 reviews451 followers
January 10, 2021
Set between 1912-1924 in North Dakota, "Tracks" is chronologically the earliest novel in the "Love Medicine" series about some Anishinaabe families. They are caught between the traditions of the indigenous people and the white culture. The book has two narrators--Nanapush, a tribal elder, and Pauline, a mixed-breed orphan whose accounts of events are unreliable. The book opens with tribal numbers being diminished by influenza and consumption, spread by soldiers returning home from World War I.

The Anishinaabe traditionally lived off the plants, fish, and wildlife from their land. but they could not afford the high government taxes on the land. Some land was sold to loggers in order to survive, but clear cutting the trees drove away the wildlife. Hunger, especially during the winter, was a terrible problem.

The tribe was used to trading goods and cooperating as a group before white culture moved in. Later, each family had to use money and try individually to hold on to their plot of land. Eventually, most of the land was sold to the government or lumber companies.

Religion plays a large role in the book. Fleur is a vigorous woman with strong ties to her tribal roots, and spirits in the woods and lake. Fleur is also a skilled hunter, forager, and herbalist. Pauline, in contrast, rejects her native American roots and embraces Christianity. She joins a convent but spends her time in self-flagellation instead of doing good deeds. She exhibits signs of madness as she fights with the Devil, and causes conflict within the tribe.

Author Louise Erdrich weaves together family stories, indigenous traditions, tribal conflicts, and the influence of white culture. There are interesting, quirky characters that will show up again in her "Love Medicine" series of books.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,004 reviews36k followers
December 22, 2014
This is only the 2nd book I've read by Louise Erdrich --(many thanks to Michael --a member here on Goodreads),-- as he recommended it to me.

My first thought when I finished reading this novel -- "All cultures and time periods have their problems. Being born Jewish, I'm familiar with our 'meshugener' (nutty, crazy), clan. Plus, we've many Jewish writers writing about our history, our culture, our foods, our personals families -etc.
But I don't know of 'many' authors writing great stories like Louise Erdrich. Kinda 'thankful' to this author!

... "TRACKS" is different than in "Round House", but both books are rich in storytelling and "Native American" -clan power-!

Reading "TRACKS" I was able to FEEL --and IMAGINE being part of the story itself. I especially loved the relationship between the granddaughter -Fleur and Nanapusn. Both of these characters were my favorites

Some crazy storytelling going on -- 'packed' with drama --at the same time all the characters worried about their land rights and maintaining ownership. Its an old story --and and sad story.

People all over the world are still fighting over what is mine.

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
January 23, 2020
Tracks by Louise Erdrich is the first of the Erdrich Medicine Readalong in Instagram and I have enjoyed the discussion so far, discussing memorable Anishinaabe characters that apparently will be reappearing in several more novels. The two narrators in Tracks - Nanapush and Pauline - are very distinct but Fleur must be the most compelling character. I finished this a week ago and have continued to think about it, so you know it's good.
Profile Image for Drka.
260 reviews8 followers
March 29, 2016
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall

The opening sentences of Tracks read like a lament for a dying race, as Nanapush summarises its vanishing in a few powerful words. He is a nurturing figure in the tribal tradition of communal parenting and a sharman. As such, he tells of experiences that go beyond the realm of understanding and, when addressing his granddaughter Lulu, Nanapush makes it clear that issues of the here and now and of the past; things that are seen and unseen, visible and invisible, are vital to her understanding of her cultural beliefs and her family and her tribal past. Issues of the here and now for the Ojibway are heavily influenced by government policy, and Nanapush believes that those policies are intent on making his tribe invisible by assimilation into white culture.

Despite its sombre tone, it seems to me that the novel ended in hope. Lulu returns like a breath of fresh air, sniffing the air of home like a pony gathering scent, her spirit unbowed by her enforced education in a government school. As she rushes to join Nanapush and Margaret, the elders envelop her and bind themselves together like a stand of trees before the onslaught of a fierce wind ... bending but not broken. The metaphor of the blizzard of legal forms that now govern the bureaucratised lives of the Ojibway contrasts beautifully with that of the gently falling snow that opens this novel and threatens to herald the vanishing of the tribe. The Ojibway have lost a great deal both spiritually and materially, but they will survive. The final words spoken by Nanapush are ones of continuing resistance to domination and assimilation. A beautiful and thought provoking work.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews945 followers
August 5, 2018
Two people at opposing poles of a small, fragmentary society narrate this story, yet their accounts agree where they intersect.

I've met these women when they were older already. Their tale will not tow the line. Time will spiral, we will float like flowers on a pond. This year's snow is any year's. The constant is loss. Yet renewal is also promised softly and sadly in the telling. The story takes root in the hearer like a seed.

I love the accounts of Fleur, whose power is renowned and feared, suffering as woman and human, desiring and being tender, angry and kind, having limits and needs, acting through magic and reason, body and thought. She is undivided, while Pauline whittles her sphere of action down ever narrower, towards the monotone white world of "government papers" that slowly eat away the reservation land. Fleur goes where I don't want to follow, but where is there for us? Only the next book...
Profile Image for Neal Adolph.
142 reviews85 followers
February 6, 2017
I haven't known how to review this book. I finished it nearly a week ago, and every morning I come to my computer and try to write something up. Nothing which bears any fruit comes out.

It is an incredibly good book.

I've had books by Louise Erdrich on my shelf for many years now. I think the first one was Four Souls. I picked it up at my alma mater, at a book sale, brand new. Soft-covers only 1.99, if my memory serves me well. Over the years, as my collection of unread books expanded so did the number of books with Erdrich name on my shelf increase. Love Medicine. A Plague of Doves. Bingo Palace. And Tracks, eventually, from another book sale at my other alma mater. 2.00 a soft-cover. For no good reason other than having an unreasonable number of unread books I had done nothing more than transfer the books from shelf to shelf as I moved around the country and around the cities of my country.

It didn't help that Erdrich is often compared to Faulkner. I have no idea why, of course, because I have never read any Faulkner (this will change soon), but Faulkner's most highly regarded work - The Sound and The Fury - is well-known to be difficult. I didn't want to read anything difficult perhaps. Maybe I didn't want to read anything difficult unless it was written by a white man. That's a possibility, too.

Earlier this year, though, I read an astonishing book by Toni Morrison. After that I read a powerhouse of a novel by Doris Lessing. And I found myself appreciating a woman's voice in my head, with its patience and observation and keen attention to relationships. As I finished The Iliad, I knew I needed to reconnect with a strong female character, or, at the very least, be guided by the wisdom of womanhood. The Iliad, with its senseless destruction of humanity and its brutality, felt too grandiose to be real. Morrison and Lessing, with their keen attention to the sources of destruction - the evil of humanity, the jealousy of the soul, the corruptibility of our ideals, not the avarice of the gods - felt real.

That isn't quite what I got with this book.

It isn't that Erdrich isn't wise. She is. Wonderfully so. And it isn't that Erdrich doesn't seem to understand conflict. She clearly does - in incredible ways. Really, truly, I loved this novel. I think this may be a great triumph of storytelling.

Erdrich uses two narrators in this story. Neither of them are trustworthy. One, an old man named Nanapush, is a wonderful grandfatherly character who appears to be quite foolish by the end of the novel. The other, a young woman named Pauline, descends into a miraculous, sad madness as she transitions away from her indigenous culture. Both prove to be unsettling when seen through the others' eyes; both are very suspicious of the other. Of course neither is suspicious of themselves. Through these two figures we watch this community in North Dakota slowly change as it encounters the modern world and struggles to adapt.

And it really is the story of a community, not just of individuals, even though the binding figure is an indiviudal named Fleur Pillager. Pauline knows her from her childhood, when she witnessed her incredible power as a figure and watched her get raped by a group of men (oh how she fought back, though!). Nanapush rescued Fleur from starvation and illness in the dead of a North Dakota winter; he then adopted her, as her only caretaker. She fell in love with Eli, whose mother then became Nanapush's companion. The four of them created an odd family-of-sorts, living on the land of an Indian Reservation.

Fleur is a powerful creature who, for various reasons, takes on a mythical role in the community. She even, perhaps, comes across as wild, even compared to the rest of her "family". She scorns the townsite and instead lives in a cabin on her family's plot of land. She is stubborn in this resolve, and her family must adapt to it by moving into her cabin. Here they hunt, care for each other, discuss the changes in the environment, chat about the changes to the world around them, insult the white man and make jokes about Pauline, who pretends to be a white man.

They are also isolated.

And this isolation is what becomes important, though you don't know it. You see, this is a story about treachery, humanity, about the expansion of The West into a part of the world that is still grappling with the expansion of The West. The plot lurches forward uncomfortably. Perhaps, it is telling us, life even in the face of horrific changes well beyond our control - changes that make us feel powerless - perhaps life is still worth living then.

It's hard to say, really. The ending is actually just a beautiful stage for us to interpret. It doesn't want to hold our hand, and I suspect that Erdrich doesn't want to provide us with some simple philosophy or lesson. She deals with the weight of history and its cacophony of nonsense. Simple ideas are not helpful when playing with history.

I still don't know what I'm saying about this novel. It is a complex think piece. But it is beautiful and powerful (and it contains some beautiful and powerful reading). Did I mention that the moment I finished reading this book I wanted to start it over again? There are treats here for the reader who will read it a second time.

I'm glad to have read this book. Maybe even more than glad. Discovering Erdrich is one of the great achievements of my reading year thus far. If you haven't enjoyed her work just yet, do so soon.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
456 reviews941 followers
May 9, 2012
A great read - moving, evocative, really takes you into the hearts and minds of the Native American loss of culture, land, traditions and how it affected individuals on a personal, as well as community, level. In this, reminded me very much of Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce, esp. in its tracing of the path of divisions within native communities and the outcomes of their brutalization in addictions, madness, suicide and violence.

Overlaid here, though, is Erdrich's unique and thrilling use of magical realism; her creation of kick-ass powerful female characters; her exploration of the aforesaid "madness" in a variety of forms, but esp. how it is interlinked with Christianity, and the clash of Christianity with native spirituality (here, in the form of Father Damien, Nanapush, and Pauline Puyat, whom we meet - among other characters first developed here - in what I'd say is one of her best (and definitely one of my faves): The Last Report of the Miracle at Little No Horse.

As with much of Erdrich, I think this is really a set of connected short stories - perhaps even character/relationship studies - not a novel; so my docking of the fifth star is based on that. But aside from that, these are powerful, gripping stories. Deeply emotional and just heart-wrenchingly sad. The symbolism of tracks through the winter snow -- their ephemerality, their transient and dying nature -- and the way that symbolism is linked to various characters; well, there is the poet in Erdrich coming out loud and clear. I *loved* this. I won't give away *how* the symbolism is used, but if you read this, make a point of looking for it. It's worth the attention.

Tracks lays the character and conflict foundation for Miracle at No Horse, and my biggest regret is that I wish I had read Tracks first and/or better remembered the characters in the latter (who, as I recall, were a minor backdrop to the Fr. Damien/Sister Leopolda story). I'm almost inclined to go back and re-read that one with this fresh in my mind.

Highly recommended. I see on my friends' list that few people have read this. If you are at all interested in Native American/Canadian spirituality and the destruction of their traditions and lives by - well - us, then this is important reading. And also, just really, really fine literature.
Profile Image for Lisa.
96 reviews157 followers
September 13, 2013
For centuries, the aboriginal people of North America have suffered through countless forms of injustice, some brazenly violent, others more subtly sowing the seeds of despair. Loss, hunger and sadness are abiding themes that thread through the Native American experience. Many did not, could not survive through the death and disintegration of their societies. You can read about the litany of massacres that took place in the 1860's, the crunchy grit of the matter, in Dee Brown's viciously unsparing Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Or, you can opt for a fictionalized account of this theft - of land, lifeblood and soul - in Louise Erdrich's troubling novel, Tracks.

Tracks is alternately narrated by Nanapush, grandfather and defender of the old ways, and Pauline, whose odd ways and fierce devotion to Christianity set her apart. The land is North Dakota, the time is early 1900's, and the tone is... desperate, yearning, clutching, hopeless. When hunger descends, gnaws at your stomach so that you chew twigs to beat back the monsters, sucks your skin so that your bones jut out and emblazon the shadow of death on your face, you call on a miracle to save you. But what happens when even the gods have fled the woods, and the old visions fail? These stories kill me because I know how they must end.

Story-telling is a central part of most Native American cultures. Pauline hauntingly intertwines the past and the present in the following passage:

It was as old Nanapush had said when we sat around the stove. As a young man, he had guided a buffalo expedition for whites. He said the animals understood what was happening, how they were dwindling. He said that when the smoke cleared and hulks lay scattered everywhere, a day's worth of shooting for only the tongues and hides, the beasts that survived grew strange and unusual. They lost their minds. They bucked, screamed and stamped, tossed the carcasses and grazed on flesh. They tried their best to cripple one another, to fall or die. They tried suicide. They tried to do away with their young. They knew they were going, saw their end. He said that while the whites all slept through the terrible night he kept watch, that the groaning never stopped, that the plains below him was alive, a sea turned against itself, and when the thunder came, then and only then, did the madness cease. He saw their spirits slip between the lightning sheets.
I saw the same. I saw the people I had wrapped, the influenza and consumption dead whose hands I had folded. They traveled, lame and bent, with chests darkened from the blood they coughed out of their lungs, filing forward and gathering, taking a different road. A new road. I saw them dragging one another in slings and litters. I saw their unborn children hanging limp or strapped to their backs, or pushed along in front hoping to get the best place when the great shining doors, beaten of air and gold, swung open on soundless oiled fretwork to admit them all.
Christ was there, of course, dressed in glowing white.
"What shall I do now?" I asked. "I've brought You so many souls!"
And He said to me, gently:
"Fetch more."

And the sorrow never ends. A government that extends grace in the form of food will steal the land with the other hand. Racism permeates life at every level, from the bewildering confusion of personal identity to the unequal treatment of entire peoples based on their beliefs, their mode of subsistence, the colour of their skin. Their forests are leveled to create the very instruments of their destruction.

Once the bureaucrats sink their barbed pens into the lives of Indians, the paper starts flying, a blizzard of legal forms, a waste of ink by the gallon, a correspondence to which there is no end or reason. That's when I began to see what we were becoming, and the years have borne me out: a tribe of file cabinets and triplicates, a tribe of single-space documents, directives, policy. A tribe of pressed trees. A tribe of chicken-scratch that can be scattered by a wind, diminished to ashes by one struck match.

The magic woven through Tracks is not enough to give this story a happy ending. Louise Erdrich, when the trouble you have stirred up in me settles, I will be back to read another disturbing tale of the reckless, heartless history of the lands we call home.
Profile Image for John Mccullough.
560 reviews36 followers
December 13, 2022
Like William Faulkner, Louise Erdrich has created a novel series dealing with a small number of closely-knit families. In this case it is families among the Anishinaabeg (Ojibway or Chippewa) living on a North Dakota reservation. Erdrich began the series with “Love Medicine” in 1984 followed by ”The Beet Queen“ in 1986. In “Tracks” (1988) she backtracks in time to the beginning of the story, telling us how various characters in her previous and many subsequent novels had their origins. A second purpose is the describe the situations these characters were born into, why they are the way they are, and in some cases how they survived.

What they were born into was a tsunami of foreigners determined to destroy the Anishinaabeg, to acquire their land, filch what little money they had and turn them into poverty-stricken dark-skinned, exploitable Europeans. All done legally, of course. A section on Alexis de Tocquevlle’s “Democracy in America” describes this very process. Unlike most books on the subject, the story is told from the viewpoint of the Anishinaabeg people who are destroyed in the process, beginning with a largely Anishinaabeg experience for the reader, told in the old way, working toward the gradual destruction of their American – Native American – selves with shattered bodies, but some still-whole souls. A willful and premeditated destruction of a people for foreign reasons: personal greed and collective patriotism – Manifest Destiny. The greatest good for the greatest number, especially if it was one’s own number. The victory of America the Great. This is the part of US history that many parents do not wish their children to learn in schools. I am sure only the relative obscurity of this book keeps it off many banned books lists.

For those interested in entering a different world, “Tracks” not only lets the reader experience the Anishinaabe Way in a small, vicarious way, as well as get a peek into How the West was Won, on what it took to create a new nation from shore to shore, to allow some to enter a middle class, all at the expense of poor, powerless people.

Erdrich uses dualistic comparisons to illustrate her points. Felling the ancient trees to create the paper documents that legalized the theft of the land and destruction of the trees – treaties that guaranteed conditions classically “as long as the grass shall grow, and as long as the rivers shall run.” Native Americans soon realized that an unwritten extension of this poetic lie was, “and as long as the ink is wet.” A second duality is Anishinaabe spirituality versus European spirituality, Catholicism in particular and how the differences explain at least Anishinaabe attitudes toward forced europeanization. A last duality is the behavior of tribal members who accepted European Culture as opposed to “Traditionals” who kept the standards of personal cleanliness, faith, language and culture of their ancestors, the latter being viewed as the enemies of the US. I should also mention that traditional Native religion was already illegal to practice by the time of the book (1912-1919), a prohibition that was only lifted in 1979.

Erdrich is a skilled writer, relentless in telling a story that is technically fiction but which was played out hundreds of times throughout American history – real American history, not the ersatz stories told many of our schoolchildren. Read the book. Enjoy. And learn.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews449 followers
October 30, 2019
My first encounter with Louise Erdrich certainly did not disappoint! Tracks is a melancholy and beautifully written story taking place on the Ojibwe reservation around the 1920s. Told via two (very different) view points, we can only witness the land of the tribes being slowly but inexorably stolen from them by a government who thinks of nothing but profit, wielding their power with a piece of paper that somehow holds the authority to remove people from their homes and land.
It is bleak, but as I’ve already said, beautiful. Erdrich captures the landscape perfectly, the harsh winters can almost be felt by the reader and the beauty of the wilderness abounds.
She also excels with her characters. The story is narrated in turn by Nanapush, a tribal elder who had lived through much, and Pauline, a young woman whose conversion to Christianity leads to spiralling madness. The two characters are at odds with one another, and it is through their eyes that we discover the strongest force of the novel: Fleur Pillager. An orphan, Fleur is referred derogatorily by others as a ‘blanket Indian’, someone who still practises traditional magic and rituals, all of which is blended seamlessly into the plot.
I would recommend this one for Erdrich’s writing alone, but it’s an important one too. Apparently this is part of a trio of books (which I may or may not have read out of order) so I’m very much looking forward to meeting these characters again!
Profile Image for Leo.
4,300 reviews383 followers
September 26, 2021
I very rarely read about Indian Tribes and I have not read any other books in the series or by Louise Erdrich but now I badly want to read more. Her writing is superb and the content matter important and something I know very little about.
Profile Image for Allie Riley.
403 reviews135 followers
March 19, 2013
I should perhaps have read this before "The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse" and "Four Souls", but no matter. It was the first book in the saga of the Kashpaws, Pillagers, Lazarres and Morrisseys of the Ojibwe reservation. The story is told alternately from the viewpoints of Nanapush and Pauline Puyat (later to become Leopolda) and focuses on the years before Fleur Pillager left for the city to get back what was rightfully hers. Consumption has the people dropping like flies, food is scarce and their land is being stolen from them incrementally by those who wished to profit from it. It ought, therefore, in many ways to be depressing. But it isn't. Our heroine is spirited, magical and fasincating. These people remain true to themselves against the odds and do more than merely survive.

Louise Erdrich never disappoints me. Her writing is as lyrical as ever. The characters are as real as ever and this part of their story as absorbing as ever. I will never tire of reading of them and hope that there is more to come.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
1,402 reviews77 followers
July 8, 2020
4.5 stars

What words could I even say? Louise Erdrich is certainly a prolific, accomplished writer. An author of fiction and nonfiction for all ages, I'm embarrassed I haven't picked up her stuff before now. Since reading Tracks and being blown away, I'm so excited for the next books I'm going to tackle from here on out. I wholeheartedly recommend Tracks to fans of family sagas, historical fiction, indigenous literature, and chilling stories of hardship and oppression.

Thank you to @erins_library @thunderbirdwomanreads on Instagram for hosting the Erdrich Medicine Read along! It was an absolute treat to read thus novel. And by treat, I mean it made me laugh, cry, and fume with anger. All the best books do.

Trigger warnings for racism, prejudice, miscarriages, attempted infanticide, rape, kidnapping, and other themes of the like. A dark book with some very dark scenes. But also moments of light, humour, happiness, togetherness. So worth the read.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,054 reviews673 followers
February 23, 2023
I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, the first I have read by Louise Erdrich. Tracks tells the story of several interrelated Chippewa Indian families around Argus, North Dakota between 1912 and 1924. There are two narrators who alternate chapters: First there is the elderly Nanapush, who is something of a patriarch. Then there is Pauline Puyat, who ministers to the dead and dying in the community and eventually becomes a postulate in an order of Catholic nuns.

The period of the novel includes the First World War and the postwar influenza epidemic and includes a period of famine -- the "Skeleton Winter" -- when the Chippewa had to subsist on the leather of their moccasins and twigs.

Dominating the action is the character of Fleur Pillager, a dynamic Chippewa woman who is the last survivor of her family. She is the mother of Lulu, born illegitimately, who is adopted by Nanapush into his family.

I find Louise Erdrich to be a major talent whose work I must explore further -- with great pleasure.
Profile Image for ✰ Perry ✰.
79 reviews9 followers
February 5, 2022
Wowowowow Louise Erdrich crafts stories like no other.

I read this for class, and will be writing a much longer piece about it!

Profile Image for Xueting.
265 reviews123 followers
July 2, 2017
3.5 stars! I loved Louise Erdrich's "The Round House" which I read years ago, so I was interested in reading her earlier work that got her known. The writing is so beautiful, Erdrich's writing is always so consistently mindblowing, the setting and characters really come to life. However, and this is more of a personal criticism than against the author... the prose felt a bit too beautiful? at times that it got rather obscure for me and I couldn't actually get what was going on sometimes. It also doesn't help that there was some magic stuff going on that confused me. So it didn't feel exactly enjoyable to read for me because I had to read everything very carefully, more than usual. But still it was beautiful and the characters will stay with me for a long time. :)
Profile Image for Julietta Efigenio.
66 reviews31 followers
February 11, 2023
Louise Erdrich never disappoints. I will read any book in the "Love Medicine" series of which there are eight.

"Tracks" continues the multi-generational saga of the Nanapush and Kapshaw families from the Objibwe tribe. Several of the series are constructed with alternating chapters from the points of view of two characters. In this case, the elderly Nanapush and younger Pauline, the former a tribal elder and the latter an evil, aspiring nun.

The writing style is lyrical, sweeping, dream-like and magical. It is filled with Native traditions and beliefs alongside Catholic and Western attempts to dominate and transform them.

I've read 3 books in the series so far: "Love Medicine", first in the series, "Four Souls" which continues the saga of Fleur Pillager (my favorite character). The third is "Tracks" where we learn what happened to Fleur before "Four Souls".

I haven't been able to read these books in order, but I intend to complete the series!
Profile Image for Maggie K.
471 reviews120 followers
May 14, 2018
The story of Fleur Pillager, one of Erdrich's most memorable characters, plays out here in an alternating chapters with stories told by Nanapush ( a trickster character) and Pauline--the crow.
Although third in the series, this book is before the proceeding two timewise.
Its hard to put the lyricism into words, the beautiful pathos that is the Northern Minnesota Indian reservation. The senseless death, the pain and the betrayal. The hurt that cannot be healed of a culture losing a generation of children. All this is captured here in Erdrich's work.
Erdrich's powerful writing brings the reservation life to its full potential.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
May 31, 2012
Love her writing and love her books. Apparently I have read them out of order and now have to go back and read Love Medicine. Which is more than fine with me. Nanapush has become a particular favorite of mine, and I love his sarcastic sense of humor. Another brilliant read.
Profile Image for Jean.
22 reviews
June 14, 2018
I didn't like the novel at all.

First of all, I already didn't like how the book started, with five pages of 'High Praise for Tracks'. Short snippets of praise are part of every book, but five pages of it creates the impression that the publisher has no faith in the inherent literary qualities of the book. Anyway, this is quite irrelevant for the rating.

After reading Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye - which belonged to the same university course - and because The New York Times Book Review compared Erdrich with Toni Morrison, expectations were high. What I can say is that there is no comparing these two authors at all. Erdrich can't compete with the intelligent style, sharp analysis, complex characterization, and emotional power of Morrison's writing.

One of the things I found were lacking are complex, round characters. It's ironic that one of the strengths of this novel (ie. the frame narrative) was actually detrimental for the development of complete characters. What you get are two points of view, stories that do not always overlap, and narrators who spend 65% of their time telling a story, and not a story in which they play a very prominent role. Tracks is clearly conveying a part of Native American culture here, a culture in which (mythical) stories are important. Although they tell the stories in their own subjective way and frequently add personal comments, they still remain party obscured - especially Pauline whom I feel I don't know at all. The characters in the narratives are also not round at all. We don't get access to their thoughts, and what they do and what they think is an interpretation of a subjective narrator. What this does achieve is mystery, but not round characters.

Secondly, Erdrich's language was not very interesting. Where Morrison closely mirrors the language of black people to create a feeling of realism, immersion and authenticity, Erdrich doesn't use colloquial language, which I think would go well in Tracks. I was also bothered by the abundance of weak metaphors in the book (eg. a pregnant woman is "a risen loaf that birth would punch down.").

Apart from the injustice the narrative explicitly unfolds in the last 10% of the book, I didn't feel that the other 90% had real significance at all. I think Erdrich's goal was to draw the reader into the world of these characters and after having established an emotional bond, say what she wants to say in the last 10% of the book (ie. the barbarity of the enclosure program). Unfortunately for Erdrich, I for one wasn't able to identify or sympathize with the characters. They are flat and the magic in the book only prevented immersion. She should weave her criticism in the narrative more like Morrison, who's writing is so thoroughly drenched with her message that you never lose sight of her intentions.
36 reviews
February 14, 2011
this book is terrible. it's way over thought, and obviously romanticized by the author. it's told from two narrators, both of whom seem to insist on telling their entire story in exposition. this book has got to be around 90% exposition, and most of that is overly verbose and purple. everything in this book is overly sexualized, including at least one scene (i didnt finish, so there could be more) of a 12 year old having sex with an adult. how louise erdrich became a bestseller is beyond me, based on this book, unless she's only popular with women who drink wine while they watch women be battered on the lifetime channel, and enjoy ham-fisted sexual innuendo, smut, and needlessly bad writing...
Profile Image for Jim.
1,123 reviews65 followers
December 8, 2020
After reading this, I feel I'm missing a lot as this story is part of a longer arc concerning Native American people ( Ojibway?) in North Dakota. We get a story told from two perspectives, that of an old man, Nanapush, and a young woman, Pauline. I like the character of Nanapush, who can remember when his people had more freedom and could still live a traditional life close to the land. Now he lives at a time (from 1912-1924), when his people are losing more of their already reduced land base and resources and face a slow destruction. They exist in extreme poverty, dying of disease and starving in the depths of winter. Those who survive do so by assimilating into the white culture. This is what Pauline does, becoming a Christian, even a nun. It's very clear that she becomes insane, although she's still accepted as a nun.
More than the story itself, there are some powerful scenes, some involving a woman named Fleur. We're introduced to her when Nanapush enters a family cabin in late winter.He finds the frozen bodies of a family--except for a daughter. She somehow survived and as Nanapush says, "She was so feverish that she'd thrown off her covers, and now she huddled against the cold wood range, staring and shaking. She was as wild as a filthy wolf..." She becomes the most interesting character of the story.
To fully understand the story, I'll have to continue to read more of Erdrich's books.
Profile Image for Cynda .
1,272 reviews146 followers
January 29, 2021
The story is a challenge to understand. Not a bad challenge. A challenge to take up because something inside says it is worth it.

Reading the novel Tracks challenges me

• to come to an understanding of a story told by two unreliable narrators. The meta-narrator (the one who decides who tells the story) has chosen these two of various that could have been chosen. So I accept the narrators.

• to identify what indigenous group(s) we are looking at, considering. Nomenclature matters if I want to be accurate and respectful. I would like to have to opportunity to be both. I am fairly sure the group we are talking about is Anishinabeg.

Because I was reading Tracks at the same time I was reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond I am watching how the religion, education, business and government organization is brought in the standardized process of subordination of cultural groups.

I reading of that subordination in the midst of indigenous families struggling to retain what culture they can in the circumstances they find themselves in.

I am not enjoying. I am somehow have allowed myself to be challenged and enchanted. (There are some mythical elements at play.)

Profile Image for Brian.
11 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2009
"We started dying with the first snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall..." So begins Tracks by Louise Erdrich, my favorite book by the Minnesota-born, Anishinabe / Lakota Sioux author. Through the conflicting narratives of Nanapush and Pauline, we become woven into the story of Fleur Pillager, an orphaned Anishinabe woman whose life is as hard as the times she is born into, on her ancestral land at Matchimanitou. Throughout the story, she and the other characters use humor and the strength of their stories and connected lives to keep on surviving in the face of exploitation, sickness and the decay of cultural ties. In this fable of American Indian life at the turn of the last century, what is real and what is mythical become blended until they are inseparable. A great read.
Profile Image for Erica.
1,327 reviews435 followers
October 2, 2013
This was the first Erdrich book I read. It was also the first novel by a Native American woman I'd read. It was an assignment in my women's studies course and I was very young and very sure of myself and very knowledgeable about every little thing in the world.
For some reason that I don't remember now, this book knocked me down my hill and left me muddied and scratched at the bottom.
I've been a fan of Erdrich ever since.
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