Tracks

This novel by Louise Erdrich is the third in the Love Medicine series, after Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. I very much enjoyed this third novel of the series. I’m loving how with each novel one gets more and more pieces of the puzzle that shows the lives of all these diverse people, whether Native American, white, or of both cultures. My review contains spoilers (although the novel is very full of all sorts of themes and I can’t possibly touch on all of them).

Tracks

The novel is set on Native American land around the town Argus (which is familiar from the other novels in the series). We also meet characters that we met before. It’s about the years 1912 to 1924 and, as usual for this series, the novel contains episodes in the lives of many characters (like a colourful patchwork). In this case is the main story is about the early years of Fleur Pillager (from 17 to 27). At 17, Fleur is the last survivor of her family, whose members all died of an infectious disease along with many other Native Americans on the reservation. I’m not sure what disease it was, maybe pneumonia? It seems to have been a disease of the lungs. Fleur is unofficially adopted by Nanapush, an older man of around 50+ years, also the only survivor of his family. Nanapush is the grandfather (by adoption) of Fleur’s daughter Lulu (who played a role in Love Medicine) and he is one of the two narrators of the story. He tells Lulu Fleur’s story to stop her from marrying into a disreputable family (so he’s telling the story of the years 1912 to 1924 at some unspecified later time when Lulu, who was born in 1914, is grown up) and to get her to reconcile with her mother. Nanapush tells Fleur’s story as someone who loves her, but we also get the story from the second narrator, Paulina Puyat, who has a love-hate relationship with Fleur. The two narrators tell the story in alternating chapters. In a way, Paulina is Fleur’s counterpart, and also a main character. We learn how she turns into the severe, almost hellish nun Leopolda (who also turns up in various novels). She is a hateful character but also pitiable.

Paulina loses her family, too, but it’s not clear if they died or abandoned her. She left them to move in with an aunt in Argus, because she wanted to learn the ways of white people, and especially to learn lace-making from the town’s nuns. It didn’t work out and when she returned to the reservation, her family was gone. She was only 15 or thereabouts.

From the beginning of the novel, we learn that Fleur isspecial. She is feared for her malignant powers (which at least partly seems like malicious gossip and superstition). There is something mythic about her. Her entire family was apparently dangerous to cross even when dead.

When Paulina and Fleur were in Argus, they worked at the Kozkas’ butcher shop (which played a large role in The Beet Queen). Fleur won quite a bit of money at poker from three men who also worked at the butcher’s. These men felt aggrieved at Fleur and one night, when the Kotzkas were away, they decided to punish her by raping her. Paulina witnessed the rape and was seen by Fleur but felt unable to help. This soured their relationship. Later on, though, during a tornado, Pauline caused the death of two of the men by locking them into a cold storage room in which they had sought to escape the storm. They froze to death, which preyed on Paulina’s mind.

Both Fleur and Paulina return to the reservation, where Fleur, who is pregnant, gets into a relationship with Eli Kashpaw, who may or may not be Lulu’s father. Fleur and Eli live in a fairly traditional way and form a loving family but struggle to pay the taxes on their land allotment. Paulina moves in with the Morrissey family, has an rather brutal affair with Napoleon Morrissey, and bears an unloved child, Marie Lazarre (whom we know from Love Medicine). She turns to the Christian religion and tries to gain some kind of recognition by turning herself into a saint by mortification of the flesh, that is, by trying follow in Christ’s footsteps through suffering. She is exceedingly self-righteous but also lonely and adrift. She can’t seem to stay away from Fleur and her family, and often tries to harm them with plots and machinations, some of which are at least somewhat successful. At length, she renounces her Native America past, murders Napoleon, and turns herself into the nun Leopolda (a fearsome and unloving person). Her religiosity seems born of hate and jealousy, not love.

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Fleur in the meantime can’t keep up her relationship with Eli and can’t keep her land. Both she and Nanapush are swindled by the machinations of Eli’s mother and the land agent. Also, the laws are against them. These are people needing government support to survive famines and are still required to pay taxes in order to keep their land. Other families from their reservation and white farmers buy up the lost land and chop down the woods in which Fleur lived. She has to give up Lulu to keep her safe (she sent her to government boarding school or at least didn’t prevent her being taken away). In the end, Fleur takes to the road as a travelling trader in homemade remedies and other things (in The Beet Queen she’s the one who saved Karl Adaire when he fell off the train).

This book, after the more light-hearted Beet Queen, is bleaker. All the tracks seem to lead nowhere or into an uncertain future. Fleur’s way, the Native American way of life, seems incompatible with the times, so that she can’t keep her land or her family. Other Native American families fall prey to alcoholism or buy up the land (if it isn’t taken over by white people). There is envy for successful families. Many families are in more or less serious feuds with other families on the reservation. There doesn’t seem to be a concerted community effort to fight against the loss of tradition and land. Even within families people follow different tracks or ways of life. Regina’s way is to follows all the negative parts of Christianity with none of the good. Fleur turns into a travelling trader and we don’t learn what exactly becomes of her. Nanapush manages to come to an arrangement with his circumstances. At one point he goes into politics so that he can save Lulu from having to live at the government boarding school. Lulu remains estranged from Fleur. Nanapush’s storytelling is aimed at getting her to reconcile with Fleur but it remains open if he is successful.

I hope some of the character’s stories will be taken up in the following novels of the series which I am looking forward to reading.

Keep safe world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Things have been terribly busy at work and I have been too tired at the end of the day to write anything. Last week was especially awful, with escalation meetings on Monday (at least we managed to solve the problem in question – at least for now though hopefully forever) on top of the usual Monday meetings. Then two colleagues called in sick and one was on vacation, so that only myself and another colleague remained to do the work usually done by the five of us. One of the sick colleagues was supposed to be the substitute for the one on vacation. There were a lot of tasks that had to be done, and after they had called in sick for the second day, I had a look at the list and found that things were quite off track. Stuff that should already have been done had been forgotten and of course the tasks for last week also hadn’t yet been done. I spent the rest of week working on those things (and I wasn’t impressed by the substitute – it’s bad luck to be sick, but if you are supposed to be doing a lot of stuff which you can’t do because you’re ill maybe a short mail pointing out that stuff needs doing might be in order). Also, I kind of expected some heartfelt thanks when they returned, but that didn’t materialize either. As I wasn’t as familiar with those tasks as with my usual ones, it took longer and was more tiring. My other two colleagues and I had more of a clue than official substitute, very odd. I’d always suspected that the colleague on vacation did most of the job, now I’m sure. At least this week the sick colleagues are back at work and next week the person on vacation will be back – phew, I’ll be relieved.

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I’ll be on vacation from end of September until the middle of October, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m feeling stressed and fed up with work. A few days away will be lovely. I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up my work as far as possible, so that my colleagues don’t have to do too many things on top of their usual work. Some can’t be avoided, because the tasks can only be done on certain dates during my vacation, but I’ll try to keep everything else down.

Last Friday, Partner and I went shopping for bed sheets and duvet covers at a large furniture store. Partner had a voucher and at the store we won another one, so in sum we had vouchers for € 100. We got three fitted sheets (two for us, one for Mum) and a double set of duvet and pillow covers. While we were there, we looked at the store’s entire selection of couches. Those couches were quite expensive, sometimes ugly, and most of them much too large for our modest-sized living room. We happened to find a set of couches, one for three people and one for two, in red leather (bright, but not too bright). Reduced to half-price because they were sample pieces. Well, while we were at the store, we couldn’t decide if we should buy them or not, but when we returned, we measured where they could go in our living-room and decided that it was an excellent match. Currently we have a three-seat couch and two armchairs. The set is 25 years old. The last seven years have been especially hard on them (otherwise they would still be in good shape), because of Curious Dog. In the end, we decided to buy the red set (our current one is a bright dark green – we like some color in our living-room). I returned to the shop and when I spoke to the salesperson, they gave us an additional discount (which I didn’t even ask for – I mean, the couches were already at half-price). In addition, the delivery is free of charge and our old couch and armchairs will also be removed at no expense. A very nice piece of good luck. The leather should be easier to clean than the weird material of the old couch set. I would have preferred couches not made of leather, but this was a case of a gift horse, so no quibbles. The delivery will be after my vacation in October. Can’t wait.

On the weekend, we watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad. It was a very striking series, really showing the horrors of slavery and how runaway slaves were not safe anywhere. It had an open end, but one could hope that things would improve for the main character. The acting was excellent. I’m very much inclined to read the novel one of these days. The only thing about the series that I disliked was that a lot of the action took place in darkness where you hardly saw anything. It’s just not that much fun watching shadowy shapes poking around in the dark. Maybe it was symbolic or verisimilitude, but still a dark TV screen is just not that great.

Poor Curious Dog has an eye irritation in both eyes. It started on Sunday and became quite pronounced yesterday. The eyes themselves are clear, but the lower lids are slightly swollen with a discharge. Last night, I bathed his eyes with weak black tea (I didn’t have any chamomile) and surprisingly today they are much improved. If they hadn’t improved, a trip to the vet’s would have been necessary. I think he’s been brushing through too much high grass and got seeds into his eyes or perhaps he got some dust into his eyes when I pruned our huge Buddleia bush on the weekend. A very dusty business which Partner can’t do because it causes his hay fever to flare. The Buddleia still needs a lot more pruning. Anyway, I’m glad that CD’s eyes are better and that he’s so good at letting me bathe them.

Next Saturday I have to see an aunt of mine in Düsseldorf, which is about (at least) 3.5 hours away (one way). She’s my last relative on my Dad’s side (his elder sister) and wants me to pick up some tableware from my grandmother. She asked me a few years ago if I wanted to inherit it and I said yes, but now she wants to get rid of it immediately. I’m not really looking forward to the drive, there and back on one day, sevenhours in the car, but it will be nice to see her. We’ve never been very close, because Dad’s relationship with her was rather contentious, but we’ve been keeping in touch by phone for years. Maybe Mum will come along (although she’s not too keen on such a long drive either).

I’ve been reading, but not too much, because of work and other things to do on the weekends. Maybe September will turn out to be a not-so-great reading months, but we shall see.

We’ve been having quite pleasant weather early fall weather. Sometimes already a bit cold, but no rain, and we haven’t had to turn on the furnace yet. The storks we used to watch on our morning walks with CD seem to have left.

Keep safe, world.

Strange Dreams

I planned to start my day as early as on a normal workday on this my free Friday, but the alarm woke me out of deep sleep and disrupted an interesting dream. Like most people (I guess) I only remember my dreams if wake up during the dream or straight afterwards. This dream was a sci-fi apocalypse. A weird explosion on a planet far away was mirrored in the sky of my own planet (could have been Earth, maybe Iceland – why Iceland? Beats me). The image in the sky was the signal for the end of the world. Society fell apart. In the dream I was a teenager, hiding from a mob of looters with a gang of children. We made it away from the looters into a prosperous neighbourhood where nobody had yet an inkling a horde of looters was about to engulf them. In the back of my dreaming mind was the thought that the explosion on the far-away planet could be undone, as there was a time manipulation element to the situation. Then, alas, the alarm woke me, and I don’t know how the dream would have played out. Maybe one of these nights it will resume.

Anyhow, I was still so sleepy that I reset the alarm to give me another 30 minutes, which grew to 45 minutes because I didn’t hear the second alarm. But it didn’t really matter because: Friday. No office on Friday.

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The morning walk with Curious Dog was very pleasant. It was cold, but sunny and promising real warmth later. We’re having beautiful early fall weather. But it was cold enough that I had my first experience of “frozen ears”. For some weird reason my ears are quite sensitive to cold. I’m going to try wearing a light woolen hat tomorrow morning (that will probably be overkill). Today it was only ca. 7°C. It’s cold in the mornings because the nights are clear, there’s no cloud cover.

I meant to get up early to have time to bring some old books and crockery to the Caritas Secondhand shop in the nearest bigger town and go grocery shopping and take the garden rubbish to the local collection point. But I changed my mind about the Secondhand shop. The old books are not in good enough shape, I think, and they are mostly nothing special. It’s probably better to throw most of them into the paper recycling bin. They are from my grandma and are quite musty and mildewy. Only a few are worth keeping or selling. And getting rid of the crockery isn’t urgent. Mum wants to have my cousin look at it when she visits in October. Maybe she’ll be happy to have some of it.

I spent a relaxed afternoon rereading Louise Erdrich’s Tracks. I finished the first read on Thursday, but it’s so good and so dense, I felt it needed another read before I can write a review. It’s only slightly longer than 200 pages but there’s a lot of plot and character development in those pages. Many passages with important info easy to miss on a first reading. Although I often reread books, I don’t usually reread straight after finishing one. This novel is still engrossing on the second read.

I made the mistake of looking at my work emails and found that an issue that was supposed to have been running smoothly has suddenly exploded into a gruesome mess requiring a horrid escalation meeting next Monday. Involving inter-departmental politics. Sigh. That particular issue was already escalated a month ago and should have been solved but has somehow popped up again. Not exactly a great start for next week. But at least there’s still the weekend between now and Monday.

Keep safe, world.

Last Workday

For a change, it was a pleasant sunshiny day. In the morning a light fog, harbinger of worse fogs to come in November. Cool enough to wear an old (very old) fleece jacket on my morning walk with Curious Dog. The path up into the woods was still muddy, the leaves dripping from the fog condensing on their leaves. Spiderwebs outlined with tiny droplets of water. A lovely morning for a walk and the best part of the day (except for the evening walk).

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Luckily, it’s the last day of my work week – I’m quite fed up. I spent half the morning hunting down an error using Excel comparisons which wouldn’t work because the downloaded data contained invisible tab spaces at the end of the strings. A new bug in the download. I think I’m specially fed up with work because I haven’t had a longer break for some time. When was my last vacation? Can’t remember. Good thing I’ve got one coming up in October, but it’s still four weeks until then. But then I still have to organize a lot of things: winter tires for the car, as we are going to the South Tyrolean Alps, road charges to be paid in advance for Austria, keeping an eye on Corona-related travel paperwork (online or otherwise), organizing a set of snow chains (to be on the safe side)… and what not. I can’t help feeling that it would have been simpler to travel to the North Sea or the Baltic as we usually do instead of into the Alps. I also wonder what the Corona situation will be like by October, what with rising numbers all around. Maybe we won’t even be able to go (hope this doesn’t happen).

If already checked that Curious Dog EU pet passport is up to date with all his vaccinations and that he will tolerate a muzzle. He’s very good about wearing one for a short time, but also very good at squirming out of it when he’s had enough. I’m hoping we won’t really need it, but it’s good to be prepared.

One of the cousins can’t join us, because she is working as a primary school teacher while also writing her thesis. So, we’ve invited the boyfriend of the other cousin to come along. Wow, our little cousins now have jobs and boyfriends and aren’t so little anymore. The first time we took the two of them to the seaside, the younger one spent all the trip barfing – it’s a joke now, but it wasn’t at the time. I was really worried about dehydration and such, as she was only 9. Probably it was the excitement of her first vacation with us. One the way back she only threw up once. Well, cousin number two will be travelling in her boyfriend’s car this time, which is quite useful, as otherwise we would have been three people plus one dog plus a lot of luggage in one car. The cousins are incapable of travelling light and we need some provisions, games, book and dog stuff as well. If both cousins had been able to join us, we would have used my car and Partner’s. We’ll meet up at our place in Bavaria first, as it’s a much shorter drive from Bavaria than from Baden-Württemberg or Hessia (which is the German state my cousins are from and, incidentally, where I was born).

This morning I chopped off some of my hair. I haven’t been to a hairdresser since last March, at the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s grown quite long now, but a bit scraggly. I’ve been thinking of making an appointment for getting the ends cut, but I never seem to get around to it. On the spur of the moment, I did it myself. Let’s just say, I wasn’t cut out to be a hairdresser. Fortunately, my hair is still long enough to pin up so that my dreadful cut isn’t noticeable. I’m planning on letting my hair grow until I can put it up in a proper bun and if I still like that style (which I last wore in my early twenties) I will keep it long. Otherwise, I’ll return to my pre-Corona short hair style.

Keep safe, world.

August Reading

Despite my busy weekends in the latter half of August, I did read quite a lot.

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I’m half-way through this amazing book. It is very strange in places (I will write a review when I’m done which will probably not be before the end of the year).

Poetry:

  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve the finished the first volume and might be able to finish the second volume in September. It’s good.
  • Robert Pinsky, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters.
    I’ve had this poetry collection since October 2014 and have started reading it when I didn’t want to drag the bulky German anthology around on my trips. It’s also very enjoyable.

Short Stories:

Alas, no short stories read.

Non-Fiction:

  • Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water Trilogy.
    A very interesting memoir about an eccentric English aristocrat’s life with otters. Sometimes idyllic, sometimes very depressing. Quite amazing. I still plan to write a review.
  • Douglas Botting, Gavin Maxwell: A Life.
    As I found Maxwell’s memoir so interesting, I fancied an outside look at his life. I’m only half-way through but am enjoying it so far – I couldn’t finish it, because I forgot my tablet at home and don’t want to read it on my small smartphone screen.
  • Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: Women at Work.
    Lots of vignettes about how creative women organize their work, quite interesting. I reviewed it.
  • Jose Arce, Liebe Deinen Hund.
    A German book about how to maximize the enjoyment both dog and human get on their daily walks. Gave me some tips on how to get my dog to stop pulling on his leash (well, basically it said “be patient and calm under all circumstances”). Easier said than done but I quite liked it. Not sure if it will help, because Curious Dog is just a really excited when he’s outside and then he pulls (especially in strange places). But I try my best and sometimes it works better than other times. But we do enjoy our walks (on the normal ones he usually stops pulling after a while).

Herondale

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, Pirate King and Garment of Shadows and Dreaming Spies.
    Installments 11-13 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. As usual, I liked them a lot and will write a review soon.
  • Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop.
    Two short novellas about secondhand book shops (the first one about a traveling horse-drawn one – very cosy, with a love-story). The second one I didn’t like as much, but it was also not bad. A bit old-fashioned (which I don’t mind). A crime/spy novel, also with a love-story and a nasty German villain. Somewhat clichéd.
  • Joan Aiken, Eliza’s Daughter, Castle Barebane, The Silence of Herondale and Foul Matter.
    I love most things written by Joan Aiken and will definitively write a post about these.
  • Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary.
    A great read, reviewed here.
  • Shari Lapena, The Couple Next Door.
    About which I ranted here.
  • Louise Erdrich, Tracks.
    The next book in my Erdrich series – very good, but I’ve only read half so far.

A good reading month was August.

Keep safe, world.