The Plague of Doves

Written by Louise Erdrich
Review by Juliet Waldron


The Plague of Doves begins in the early 1900s as a group of adventurers head onto the prairie to found a town. Although most starve or freeze, some survive, and the town of Pluto is born. (Passenger pigeons, feasting on the newly planted wheat fields, are the “plague” of the title.) The Ojibwa are remnants of a wilder time, too, serving as convenient scapegoats for the gruesome murder of an isolated farm family. Three generations, on the reservation and off, will be affected by this crime and the lynching which follows.

Although the mystery is solved in the final pages, the book initially appears to be a collection of interwoven family stories, each with a marvelously realized narrator. We meet wily, witty Mooshum, and his granddaughter, Evelina, an intelligent and passionate young woman who is determined to escape the reservation. There is the Peace family: beautiful Maggie, mad Billy, Shamengwa the violinist, and the delinquent Corwin. We learn how reservation and town are linked inextricably by marriage, adultery, and history. The characters are exquisitely drawn, and the language is an almost magical wedding of poetry to prose. Although The Plague of Doves is a literary novel, it pulses with the warm blood of daily life. There is even, despite high tragedy, a good helping of laugh-out-loud humor. Beautiful and highly recommended!