Anishinaabe brothers Basile and Aloysius Beaulieu take on the character of sacred trickster spirits in this novel set mostly in the years around World War I. Brought up near the headwaters of the Mississippi on the White Earth Reservation, Minnesota, the narrator Basile is a storyteller and Aloysius a visionary painter. After growing up together under the tutelage of their uncle, who publishes the reservation newspaper Tomahawk, the pair chooses to work with horses, but also to use the railroad to access a wider world.
Their world widens further when they are drafted into service in World War I, and serve as scouts during some of the war’s bloodiest battles. Haunted by their experience, they return to the reservation for a Warrior Way ceremony. Paris beacons anew, and soon after the pair takes up their lives among other Lost Generation compatriots Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, and James Joyce. Basile and Aloysius remain humble and egalitarian throughout, learning from animals, disfigured war vets, well-traveled traders full of stories, the Odyssey and masters of art and literature in equal measure.
Literary and reserved in style and visionary in scope, Blue Ravens centers on storytelling more than character development, interior life, or dialogue. After a promising beginning the repetition, many descriptions of Aloysius’s paintings, and reporting style became monotonous for this reader. Native American focus stays consistent throughout the narrative, and gems spark up, like native descendants of the fur trade returning to America with stories from France, and drinking New World chocolate in the cafes of Paris.