Louise Erdrich uses a story of clan feuds to chronicle the destruction of Chippewa culture by disease, alcohol, treachery and missionary education in the early 20th Century. Her subtle prose transports the reader to a Native American world that encompasses both objective reality and realm of the spirits. Most of her characters cannot look beyond their quarrels and romances to recognize the destruction of their traditional way of life. Only the venerable Nanapush realizes that his world is ending: Soon his chants and medicines will lose their potency.
The old Chippewa culture disappeared, like the ancient oaks around enchanted Lake Matchimanito that fell before the white settlers' axes. Erdrich's extraordinary novel provides an eloquent memorial to their passing.