Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich - Review by Jon and Carlyn

Plague of Doves is a novel that was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist written by Louise Erdrich.  The story follows the lives of several characters in a mixed community of Whites and Native American peoples who live in the fictional town of Pluto, North Dakota during the mid 20th century.  The central story around which the characters lives revolve the suspicious 1911 murder of a White family in the town and the subsequent unjust lynching of an Indian boy named Holy Track, his uncle Asiginak and Cuthbert Peace .  The characters lives are full of the lies, secrets, half-truths and the disparate perspectives that shape the reality and create tension between the White and Native people of Pluto.  

The story and history of the town are narrated through  the voices of a variety of the town's people including a young Native girl named Evelina Harp whose grandfather Mooshum is the sole survivor of the lynching; Antone Bazil Coutts the town judge who is of mixed heritage and marries into the Harp family; Marn (Wolde) Peace a white woman who marries into the Peace family; and Dr. Cordelia Lochren, the town historian.   The lives of all the characters are intertwined in intricate detail and while their perspectives are not used, the story also features the stories of Corwin Peace the cousin of Evelina, Mooshum, Billy Peace, Corwin's Uncle who is an Evangelical Messiah of sorts and married to Marn,  Neve Harp, a thrice married Caucasian woman who is the sister of Evelina's father and Warren Wolde a crazy old man living in an Insane Asylum where Evelina comes to work and eventually becomes a patient at herself. 

The plot is intricate with all the family relationships and back stories that twist together making the story somewhat hard to follow in places.  The other challenge to following the story is the different perspective's given by the narrators because as things unfold we begin to see the truth and how the events surrounding the lynching, which is first told to us by Evelina through Mooshum's relating of it, are altered.   


Through all the story's twists and turns Cordelia eventually figures out who the true murderer was.  I loved the development of Erdrich's characters via their narratives.  There is definitely no idealization going on in her story as every character is flawed and battles internal conflicts whether they be directly related to the murder or in their interpersonal relationships within the community of Pluto.  The story has a chaotic nature to it probably best described by Cordelia when she references the town's name (Pluto) and how Pluto was the Roman God of the Underworld.  Throughout all the conflicts of conscience and character there is a weird kind of redemptive value in Cordelia's discovery of the true murderer albeit through a pained and irresolvable realization. I came away with the sense that all sins could be forgiven through the utter catastrophes we might weave. Or maybe that forgiveness is what is necessary to move on?  Forgiveness may be the wrong term though.  There may in fact be no forgiveness, but simply the recognition that once the truth is revealed that life needs to move forward and not be weighed down by the sins of the past.  

I am definitely not saying that was the author's intent, or the point of the book for that matter, it's just the way the resolution hit me.  While I felt bad for most of the characters at some point in the story, by the stories end once you realize that everyone has suffered their own personal hell in some way there is a sense of needing to move on from it.  

The Plague of Doves is a very thought provoking read.  I think it would be a great story for high school or college aged students


I enjoyed reading The Plague of Doves. The characters are well written and like you mentioned, they have flaws so that no character is entirely bad or good. I have not read much on Native Americans and I think didn't learn much of their culture in this book. I also thought it was a thought provoking book because of all the themes. I think it would make a great book to study in high school or college too. 

The story is told through a roundabout way from alternating from many characters, some had more interesting stories than others. I liked the story about the founding of the town and the expedition to get to it. There were other stories that I found boring and others that I found repulsive.  It was hardest to read about the lynching and I didn't like reading about the cult. 

I think you described it quite well about each character going through their own personal hell. Fortunately, most characters find some peace by the end of their chapter. I thought that some stories were irrelevant to the central plot, it actually took me a while to figure out what was the connection was between each story. I think a family tree or glossary at the back of the book would have helped me to remember who the characters were and how they were related. 

I found the end of the book to be satisfying as it ends with Cordelia’s summarizing her thoughts on the town, her feelings of the massacre and the lynching that followed. I found the book to be interesting and not at all depressing considering some of the subject matter. This book is not one of my favourites but it is an interesting read. 


  1. Thought provoking indeed. I have not heard of this one before, but you've definitely caught my attention with this one, so I may have to broaden my horizons and check this one out sometime!

    1. The Plague of Doves is a rich and thought provoking read that I hope you will someday enjoy.

  2. Louise Erdrich is a highly respected author and she often writes about Native American Culture in her stories. Even if you don't get to read Plague of Doves, I would definitely recommend reading any of the other fine novels she has written.


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