The Painted Drum
It took some sixteen years for Louise Erdrich to complete The Painted Drum, a masterwork of deeply colored, exquisitely drawn life scenes.
The Painted Drum is two stories. Faye Travers tells her story first. She tells us that while appraising the value of her neighbor’s estate – she is an estate dealer – she found a ceremonial drum of extraordinary value. Astonishingly, she stole the drum, intent on returning it to its rightful owners, the Ojibwe people. But there is much more to Faye’s story: her abortive love affair, a tragic crash that kills young neighbors, the orchard she refuses to let bloom again, her fascination with ravens, and underneath all – the childhood death of her sister, Nette.
Faye returns the Drum to the Ojibwe, and here begins the second story, the Drum’s story. It is a wonderful tale narrated by Bernard, Shaawano’s grandson, who is himself approaching old age. The Drum, Bernard tells us, came to be out of Shaawano’s desolation. His child was killed by wolves. At the darkest point of his grief she appeared to him in a vision, instructing him to find the sacred cedars and build the drum. And thus the drum began its life.
In the closing chapters of the book the Drum again takes its place among the Ojibwe people, healing and “looking after” its own. The tale of the Drum seems to change from a myth to a real story. Or does it? In the end the question that remains with me is “What is the Drum, after all?”
This is a must read book.