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Authors Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris discuss "Tracks: A Novel"

BROADCAST: Sep. 16, 1988 | DURATION: 00:52:40


Living in the past and the present, Native American Indians and Catholicism are all parts of Louis Erdrich's book, "Tracks: A Novel." Both Michael Dorris and Erdrich have Native American Indian backgrounds. The husband and wife team also talk about how they take long walks with one another and discuss with each the ideas of future books and the books' characters.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Louise Erdrich "We started dying before the snow. And like the snow, we continue to fall. It was surprising there were so many of us left to die. For those who survived the spotted sickness from the South, our long fight west to Nadouissioux land where we signed the treaty, and then a wind from the east bringing exile in a storm of government papers. What descended from the north in 1912 seemed impossible. By then, we thought disaster must surely have spent its force, that disease must have claimed all of the Anishinabe that the Earth could hold and bury. But the earth is limitless and so is luck. And so were our people once."

Studs Terkel Louise Erdrich reading the opening passages of her most recent novel, a very eloquent and powerful and poetic one, called "Tracks," and Louise Erdrich, you know, was, was the first winner of the Nelson Algren playwriting contest, when sponsored by Chicago magazine some years ago, and that short story became one of the powerful sequences in the book that established her as a preeminent American novelist today, "Love Medicine." And then came the second novel, equally acclaimed, "The Beet Queen," now this one, and with her is her husband, the novelist and writer and essayist, Michel Dorris. And the reason he and she are both here is because we'll be explaining shortly how they work together. The one or the other gets the name credit at the time. This book, "Tracks," though most recently written, oh, Henry Holt the publishers of all three, is, goes back in time to the beginning, doesn't it?

Louise Erdrich Yes, it does. It, it's the, really first book in the, in the trilogy of books so far, and it goes back to, well starts in 1912 and it goes on until about 1924.

Studs Terkel And "Love Medicine" deals with the '20s and the Depression,

Louise Erdrich Yes, and, and then goes all the way up to the '80s, it skips around quite a bit.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And "Beet Queen" deals with another event.

Louise Erdrich That also deals with the, that 40 years, only it's set in Argus, it's off reservation time.

Studs Terkel And the characters and Michael, you can enter this because we'll come to moment how you two work, the characters intertwine. There's a family, the Pillager family, then there's a Morrissey family, and there's a Kashpaw family. We're talking now about people who are, are Chippewa Indian, right?

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel Mixed in some cases, mixed.

Louise Erdrich In some cases mixed, right.

Studs Terkel With what, French Canadian and Irish?

Michael Dorris German. Polish.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Michael Dorris Yeah, and in some cases, non-Indian characters, in "The Beet Queen" especially.

Studs Terkel So we have to come to how you two, well, first of all, there's so much of this I want to talk about, have you and Michael both read from this, so many of the passages so poetic and wild. The nature of the writing itself, it's not just, it's not realistic as such. It's realistic, but now we come to something surreal, it's something mythic, too, isn't there? In this? Is this?

Louise Erdrich Yes, I think, I think it is. Although parts of it are realistic, but they're just from a different cultural perspective, and they may, they may seem surreal to someone who isn't familiar with Chippewa culture, religion or mythology.

Studs Terkel See, we're so accust- I say we, the Caucasians. I was about to say Americans. [laughing] Americans. But on that subject. You know Carlos Fuentes.

Louise Erdrich Mmm hmm.

Studs Terkel He says it's funny how the United States call themselves Americans as though the others are not, as though Mexico were not America, or Canada, or Nicaragua, or Bolivia, or for that matter, the Native American. [laughing]

Louise Erdrich Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel So that's interesting, isn't it? He says we have no name, this country. It's simply called "The United States." It lacks a name. Just "The United States."

Michael Dorris I see your next book. [laughing]

Studs Terkel Your next book! By the way, this leads in, perhaps we should say this now. Louise and Michael Dor- Michael Dorris' novel, called "White, white,"

Michael Dorris "Yellow"

Louise Erdrich "Yellow"

Studs Terkel "Yellow"

Michael Dorris "Raft"

Studs Terkel "Boat on"

Michael Dorris "Yellow Raft in Blue Water"

Studs Terkel "Yellow Raft on Blue"

Michael Dorris "Water"

Studs Terkel "On Blue Water." I get mixed with the colors. You both also work together, don't you?

Louise Erdrich We always

Studs Terkel Even though one or the other receives the cred-how does that work?

Louise Erdrich Well, you know, in either of the books one of us, it starts before we even start the book, actually, because we're always thinking about it, and we think about an idea and we plan out the characters, and we talk. We take long walks, we're out in the country. I don't want to make us to sound too lonesome, but we don't have much of a social life, and our characters take on lives of their own and we talk about them, and we, we get down their, the nuance and the rhythm and the way they talk and what they want and what they're gonna do, and we plot and plan and, and

Michael Dorris Yeah, and then one, whoever is going to have their name on the book will begin to plunk them down into situations, and begin to write a draft of the book and pass it back to the other person, and make comments and change directions back and forth and back and forth, and before any of the books actually go out to the publisher, we read them aloud to each other and agree on every word, basically,

Studs Terkel By the way, I, I assume the audience knows that both you, Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich, are part Chippewa.

Louise Erdrich Mike, Mike is part

Michael Dorris Louise is part Chippewa, I'm part Modoc.

Studs Terkel Oh, you're part Modoc. But you're both part Native

Michael Dorris Right.

Louise Erdrich Right, that's part of our backgrounds.

Studs Terkel And that's part of the background. So this brings us now to the book. Oh, I haven't asked you about, we'll, we'll save the Christopher Columbus adventure of yours

Louise Erdrich Okay.

Studs Terkel The big one coming up, let's save that for later.

Louise Erdrich OK, we'll save that.

Studs Terkel You opened reading of a, a passage and the passage deals with what? With, with something happening in 1912 and around there and involving governmental, that is, the United States Caucasian government stepping in. And what, alloting, taking over what? Taking over land that was Native American.

Louise Erdrich Right, as it's opening, people are ranged on either side of, of a question regarding settlement, money settlement for land, for resources, and in addition to that, there is a, a terrible disease pro-there's a problem with disease. And in fact, it runs through World War II, when the great flu epidemic occurred right after people came back from, from Europe. And all through that time, there's this quite ongoing question of, you know the lumber companies are struggling for the land and that the Chippewa are struggling to keep that land, but, and Fleur Pillager is really the center of all of the action.

Studs Terkel Fleur Pillager's a certain kind of woman who is talked about and appears on this, there are two narrators, oh, you spoke of the split. There's a Morrissey family of mixed blood that wants [snaps fingers] to settle, they want to make the dough, right? Plus

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel The, a Lazarre family, isn't that it?

Louise Erdrich That's right, who also.

Studs Terkel As against the old man, one of the narrators.

Michael Dorris Nanapush, yes, as against, as against the traditionals basically, who believed that land is the most essential thing. More than money. More than anything

Studs Terkel This has, has this been so, this, this split within the Indian community, within the Native American community?

Louise Erdrich That, that's ongoing. You know, there's, as, as Nanapush says in the text, "The only thing that lasts life to life is land. Money burns like tinder and flows off like water, and as for the government's promises, the wind is steadier," he says, because people start to realize that you sell off the land, you don't just sell off land, you sell off your future."

Studs Terkel We haven't say who Nanapush is, this, we haven't spoken of the form of this particular book "Tracks" that goes back in time before the history of this community. The community's where now, the Dakotas? We're talking about where?

Louise Erdrich Yes, in the Dakotas, up north, but it could be any, any tribal community.

Studs Terkel Not far, you say within the vicinity of Wounded Knee, say.

Louise Erdrich No, no,

Studs Terkel Farther north.

Louise Erdrich Farther north.

Michael Dorris

Louise Erdrich Practically Yeah, farther north.

Studs Terkel And this book deals with '12 to 1912 to '24, and each sequence is a season or a year. But there are two narrators, and perhaps in these two narrators, you take off from there, you might have a sense of, of the struggle within the Native American community. Almost metaphorically.

Michael Dorris Yes, the, the opening narrator is, is an elderly man by the name of Nanapush, who is a storyteller and a humorist and a survivor who has been a young man during the last period in which the tribe was healthy and whole, and he is narrating a story throughout the book to his granddaughter, Lulu Lamartine from "Love Medicine," and his voice alternates with that of a younger woman, Pauline Puyat, who is mixed blood, is torn between her loyalties to traditional religion and to increasing fanaticism about Christianity, and she talks to herself, basically, not tell a story to anybody else.

Studs Terkel These two people, there Nanapush representing the tradition, the pre-Colombian tradition, almost.

Louise Erdrich Well, not not quite, but but as traditional as, as I and, and you know, as, as Michael and I could personally construct, yes,

Studs Terkel Did your, let's say your grandmother, how far back can you, as far as your ancestry?

Louise Erdrich My grandfather and grandmother are still living, that side of the family, yes.

Studs Terkel Would they deal in the tradition of Nanapush?

Louise Erdrich Maybe some uncles, two of might be some great uncles, and, and people that, you know, had that very ironic twist of, of humor, but also a great kindness and a great generosity toward the world, that's what Nanapush has, a, a stance toward the world.

Studs Terkel A wonderful storyteller.

Louise Erdrich He

Studs Terkel And also free and easy as far as

Louise Erdrich Sex

Studs Terkel Relationships.

Louise Erdrich And relationships

Studs Terkel Very

Louise Erdrich Yeah, oh, sure.

Studs Terkel A great freedom and, and delight.

Louise Erdrich And

Studs Terkel And understand. What about your ancestors, immediate ancestors?

Michael Dorris Oh, well, I, I think so, but I think there is a kind of universal quality that, that one finds in older people on reservations throughout this country, who have learned to survive, who have rolled with the punches, who find humor in terrible situations because that enables them to, to keep going. And this is a character who is unique in him himself, but he's also representative of a whole class

Studs Terkel Now, he's one of the, it's alternates, the narration, telling the story of what happened in that community. And there's a figure recurs, this very strong, remarkable woman, Fleur Pillager, but the other narrator, Pauline you talked about, is now, well she's pretty much caught up. She was adopted by the Morrisseys, who were mixed and Catholic

Louise Erdrich Yes,

Studs Terkel And now it's a question of becoming religious with connected to some other culture.

Louise Erdrich Mmm hmm. She's being, she's being, she's trying very hard to become a good Christian, but then she is a fanatical Christian and she begins to take on the really darker aspects of Catholicism and in an attempt to gain a kind of power, and it's really because she's confused and almost terrified of her own background that she begins

Michael Dorris And her own humanity.

Louise Erdrich And her,

Michael Dorris She's striving for something else. She does all these things to try and, and abase herself. She wears her shoes on the wrong feet. She refuses to go to the bathroom while the sun is up, she makes up trials for herself, which Nanapush then makes fun of,

Studs Terkel Even the Mother Superior one time, says "Even a saint must rest."

Michael Dorris [laughing]

Louise Erdrich Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel But there's one, there's a humorous kind-there's a young, kindly priest named Damien.

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel And there's a little dialogue between him and Nanapush I found rather funny, Nanapush is an old man, and the seats in the Christian con-would you mind telling that one? The seats

Louise Erdrich The seats are, are hard in the church. But Father Damien's been trying to get Nanapush to come in and and join the Holy Mass for quite some time, and Nanapush finally comes in and he says, "I would have come before if you put some cushions on the seats," and and Father Damien says, "You know, you must think of their unyielding surfaces as helpful, because God sometimes enters through the humblest parts of our anatomies if they are sensitized to suffering." And Nanapush says, "A God who enters through the rear door is no better than a thief."

Studs Terkel Yeah, I kind of like that. He also, also gives you a little touch of the randy way of, you know, the kind of racy way Nanapush has of looking at things, to religion as well as sex and everything. He, so you have the contrast, then, don't you, between these two?

Louise Erdrich Yes, there's a contrast because Dam- Father Damien is the kind of priest who, you know, was actually a, a part of Catholic culture. He, he tries his very best. He's got a kind of nonjudgmental, a, a generosity akin to Nanapush, and a sense of humor about this, about this other culture. He does not-

Studs Terkel I was thinking of the contrast between the two narrators, I meant, you know between

Louise Erdrich Oh, I see.

Studs Terkel between Nanapush and Pauline, both Native Americans, you know. Were they Chippewa?

Michael Dorris Yes.

Studs Terkel They are. Both Chippewa, but how one is becoming white, that is

Louise Erdrich Yes, being

Studs Terkel Caucasian

Louise Erdrich Yes

Studs Terkel and Christian and the other maintaining another culture, maintaining his own. And this is, comes to the fore, to the fore. But

Michael Dorris But she does it not well. I mean, she, she doesn't understand it and so she goes to extremes

Louise Erdrich Right.

Michael Dorris and that is her undoing, I think.

Studs Terkel Let's take one break, because we have to connect this too, perhaps, with the two previous books, mentioned names of families. Kashpaw, we have to come to the two brothers, their relation to Nanapush and to his wife, I don't know if she's a wife, she lives with him, Margaret.

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel That's kind of easy, it's kind of an easy [unintelligible] [laughing] and, of course, this remarkable Fleur Pillager we have to talk. Who, if there's one powerful central figure who's real, to me she's real and mythic at the same time, like she performs magic, too, it seems.

Louise Erdrich Oh, yes, well, I think she, she

Studs Terkel Fleur.

Louise Erdrich to both Michael and I, too. Yeah, but, but she, she reappears in "The Beet Queen," as the person who is, who is dragging, dragging along the burdens of her past along a railroad track, and she heals a young boy who's in a moment of despair jumped from a boxcar.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I'm, I'm trying to remember that now.

Louise Erdrich Karl.

Michael Dorris Karl Adare.

Studs Terkel "Beet Queen." The two kids, the brother

Louise Erdrich Karl

Michael Dorris And he tears the branch from the tree and gets back on the boxcar and rides out of

Studs Terkel So she's through it.

Louise Erdrich Mmm hmm. So she's

Studs Terkel And the, the Kashpaws are through it, too, this family.

Louise Erdrich The Kashpaws are, are in "Love Medicine." Now you have seen that "Tracks" that shows the beginning of that big rift between the families, the division on the reservation between the, the more progressives and the more traditional families.

Studs Terkel We're talking to Louise Erdrich, who's now recognized very definitely as a major American novelist. Bang! It happened in about three, four years, it was there

Louise Erdrich all Bang!

Studs Terkel Now when, when did you write "Love Medicine"?

Louise Erdrich Ummm, was it

Michael Dorris Eighty-three.

Louise Erdrich Eighty-three, eighty-four.

Studs Terkel Eighty, so you mean five years? Really?

Louise Erdrich Has it been that long, yeah

Studs Terkel And that, that, that, that story that Nel-when was that? About six years ago?

Louise Erdrich Yep. Nelson Algren. Yeah, that was, that was our, boy, was that a thrill!

Michael Dorris That's when we got a new muffler on our car as

Louise Erdrich That's right! We

Studs Terkel had You know who the three judges were that contest?

Louise Erdrich Sure do, yes. You

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Louise Erdrich Kay Boyle

Studs Terkel Kay

Louise Erdrich And Donald Barthelme.

Studs Terkel You got it!

Louise Erdrich Wouldn't forget

Studs Terkel And you know what? All three read it boom! No question. That's it! And, and I personally felt Nelson Algren would have just loved that story, because he knew that woman who opens the story, June Kashpaw, and of course Michael Dorris, who is her husband, also her collaborator and also teacher at Amherst.

Michael Dorris Dartmouth.

Studs Terkel At, I always mix them up. At Dartmouth. Teaching what? Teaching Native American history and culture.

Michael Dorris Anthropology, yeah.

Studs Terkel And Henry Holt are the publishers of "Tracks" as of "Love Medicine" and "Beet Queen".

Michael Dorris And "Yellow Raft".

Louise Erdrich And "Yellow Raft," yeah.

Studs Terkel And what?

Michael Dorris And "Yellow Raft."

Studs Terkel And that's, by the way, in your book, what's what you get credit. You know, the "Yellow Raft on, on White"

Louise Erdrich "Blue Water."

Studs Terkel "On

Michael Dorris White water would be a different

Studs Terkel Yeah, white water. Now, you worked with him on "Yellow"

Louise Erdrich "Yellow Raft in Blue Water" was the same sort of process, where, we worked back and forth and did the same thing.

Studs Terkel Let's take our first break and then we'll resume. [pause in recording] So resuming with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris and this book, the book in question. Now, the most recent one of the trilogy is "Tracks," the most recently written, and yet it precedes in time the other two books, "The Beet Queen" and "Love Medicine."

Louise Erdrich Yes

Studs Terkel And we haven't talked about, we got to come to this. See, I said to me, I said that I, as I read this, it's of another culture. It is, it's not just straight this happened then this happened, in the imagination something happens, too, like she, Fleur Pillager, seems to have drowned three times.

Louise Erdrich Yes. Unusual.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Louise Erdrich Yeah. And how, and how does she survive?

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Louise Erdrich And that, I'm, well I'm not, I'm not gonna answer that here.

Studs Terkel But she does.

Louise Erdrich But she does survive.

Studs Terkel But also she's playing now, she, she's pretty strong. She's very sexually very powerful and [attractive?]. Also strong.

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel And she's playing cards with three guys in the butcher shop that appears in "The Beet Queen."

Louise Erdrich Yes, the same one.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Kozka's.

Louise Erdrich Kozka's Meats, right.

Studs Terkel With, with his wife Kitty, no, what's her name?

Louise Erdrich Fritzie.

Studs Terkel Fritzie. But here are these guys, there are three guys, one is Duke, not Duke.

Michael Dorris Dutch.

Studs Terkel Dutch. A guy called Lily. Lily.

Louise Erdrich Lily.

Studs Terkel And another

Louise Erdrich Tors.

Studs Terkel And Tor. Now these are three, they're hardworking guys.

Louise Erdrich Yeah. Hardworking, hardworking guys who, who are, well, they're in, they're, they're not really, so much, they're a little intimidated by Fleur in a way, because she she's so much her own woman, and well, they, they also look, look down her because she is woman, because she's a Chippewa and yet she sits down with them and she does something that they can't quite understand. Now, they come there every night and they play poker and they, and she wins $1 from them, $1 exactly on the nose, never more, never less. So they cannot figure this out. They know there's something going on here, but they cannot figure it out. And finally, and she's stringing them along. Finally, it's Lily who decides well, the thing to do is really up this ante so that, so that she gets nervous, so she cracks, so that she can't, you know, win her $1 a night, 'cause see she's got to be cheating. There's something going on. And so they all decide that one night they're gonna put all their money in the pot. They're gonna just spend all their money and they're gonna, they're gonna, they're gonna break her streak. It's a matter of pride, you know, with these guys. Male pride. The thing is, she beats them and they, they're out all their money. But then they revenge herself-themselves on her and in a sexual way, but the revenge which she concocts is truly frightening.

Studs Terkel And, and here you see, now here some of that magic comes in maybe. I consider magic. What she's able to do to these guys. And that, of course, it causes the end of a couple of them, the other guy's crippled for life. Pretty much. With a couple little kids around and about playing a role here, too.

Louise Erdrich Right. Seen through the eyes of, of Pauline when she's young. She's

Studs Terkel Pauline was the little girl.

Louise Erdrich seeing all of this. Yeah, she's seeing all this happen.

Studs Terkel But and this is part, this is made part of the story by the narrator, Pauline told, though. But now we come to something about her. Anybody who, any guy who crosses her

Louise Erdrich Yeah.

Studs Terkel suffers some horrendous fate. There's a guy who lost his tongue, right?

Louise Erdrich That's right. Was he wa-he was spying on her with her, her lover. And well, but who knows? This is people's rumors, you know, they say well, because he was spying and he saw them in their passion she cut out his tongue, and sewed it in backwards so that she, so that he couldn't talk.

Studs Terkel Later on he's of that family that is settling in contrast to traditional families, the Lazarre family and the Morrissey family. And so she's able to, now, these are rumors, but it's also, isn't this part of the mystery of the culture like there, there's a spirit here that we're talking about rather than a flesh-and-blood figure, too. Isn't that part of it, too with Fleur?

Louise Erdrich Yeah, but not in a mystical.

Michael Dorris No. I mean, it's, it's sort of the idea that anything is possible, you know, and that, and that, that stories circulate to try and explain things that happened, and they find causes. And the causes are rooted in the culture's past and, and so forth. I think in, in all of the books, we have not wanted to insist that a reader accept one thing or another, but rather they can take from the stories what, what they find.

Studs Terkel In, in, in Native American culture generally, there is you say anything is possible, now we're telling, we're talking now about man, the human, man, woman and nature. So is that part of the thing that over and beyond a literal interpretation that the Caucasian has, with the Native American there's an added dimension?

Michael Dorris Well, there's a kind of unexpected. I mean, maybe I should tell him the Nootka creation

Michael Dorris Yeah, that's a good one, that's a great, that's a good story. I

Michael Dorris I don't know whether this is good for on the air, but you think of, of Genesis and Adam and Eve, and everything is, is caused and guilt and, and so forth. Well the, a tribe on Victoria Island, in, in Canada, tell a story about the creator who is personified as a Raven, neither male or female. And the raven is flying around one day and looks down and sees a bush with the biggest, most luscious purple berries it has ever seen, and it goes down and because the raven is a pig, just eats every one of them, gets all of its feathers stained with this berry juice, eats so much that it can't fly, so it kind of staggers off to the side of a cliff and jumps off and spreads its wings, begins to careen around, and suddenly, it has stomach cramps like it had never had before, just horrible stomach cramps, relieved only by the worst case of diarrhea that ever has been experienced in the world before. Finally, Raven is finished with this, breathes a sigh of relief, looks down to the ground to see the mess that it has made, and there's human beings.

Studs Terkel Oh, that's fantastic! I think that's very close to the truth. [laughing] At this moment in our history I'd say that's, considering the campaign, I'd say that's very close to the truth right now. That's an incredible story. Now, by the way, I think in a number of other cultures, and in some Hispanic cultures also in Indian, [too?], there's that. You know, I know that you're aware of Eduardo Galeano's, the Uruguayan writer's trilogy, called "Memory in Fire," and in Genesis there are many myths to the creation not too different from the one you described, though yours is a bit more scatological in nature. [laughing]

Louise Erdrich Yeah.

Michael Dorris Certainly,

Studs Terkel Great. So that's it. So that's part of it.

Michael Dorris [I've said?] the relationship with the creator and with fate is, is, is humorous, and it's unexpected, and it's sort of egalitarian, and you know, you, you don't, there's no plan to things.

Studs Terkel You've named about three things. Egalitarian, a democratic spirit, humorous, and also not so burdened with sin.

Michael Dorris Right. Exactly.

Studs Terkel That's the big one.

Michael Dorris Yeah.

Studs Terkel And that's, and that's Nanapush's, this old narrator, that's his look at life, he's a witty guy, a dry humor. Now how is he in the family set up? If we come to "Love Medicine" and "Beet Queen"? Would he be the grandfather of one?

Michael Dorris Of Lulu Lamartine.

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel Oh, Lulu

Louise Erdrich See, Lulu

Studs Terkel Who's there, she's a little child to whom he's telling the stories, his grandchild, now in "Love Med" I remember she had an affair. She was the lover of one of the Kashpaws.

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel Who was that?

Louise Erdrich Nector.

Michael Dorris Nector.

Studs Terkel Nector, who's the, now we come to them. There are two brothers here, and now we come to another double way of looking at things [too tween?], there's Eli

Louise Erdrich Eli

Studs Terkel Kashpaw.

Louise Erdrich And there's Nector. And in the beginning you can see

Studs Terkel They're twins,

Louise Erdrich Well,

Studs Terkel No, not twins.

Michael Dorris People think of them as twins, 'cause one is an older brother and one is a younger, but the younger shadows the older so much.

Studs Terkel But their difference in their outlook, we come to that.

Louise Erdrich Right. Their outlook becomes

Studs Terkel And how is that?

Louise Erdrich increasingly different, because Nector from the very beginning is interested in, in taking the, the route of, of going off the reservation, going into, oh

Michael Dorris Movies!

Louise Erdrich Movies, becoming part of, you know, the culture is, as is known at the time, not the Indian culture. But Eli is interested in staying in the woods, and, and really has traditional Chippewa values.

Studs Terkel So Eli is more Nanapush.

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel Eli, and Eli is this very strong, quite also a sexually potent figure. Eli. We'll come to him and

Louise Erdrich Pillager Kind

Studs Terkel Bewildered, he has a very, yeah but he's not quite certain. But as the other kid, Nestor is more, becomes more the accountant.

Louise Erdrich Yes, he does. More the politician.

Studs Terkel The planner, the politician. And by the, all this time there's the background of the agent.

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel There's the background of the white companies coming in and making deals, right? The lumber company. This is there, always in the back, the danger of something happening to that piece of land.

Louise Erdrich Right. That's always in the background, and people are always, it's always a struggle to, to hold on to it.

Studs Terkel See, where it's exciting is this back and forth, the view of what's happened. Now we come back to Pauline again, Pauline with her overwhelming sense of sin, and this could become more and more Christian sin, Pauline, and she wills, is she able to will? There's a remarkably passionate and tempestuous sexual encounter between Eli and a rather silly girl named Sophie. Now, how does Pauline figure, she's, I read that, she kind of willed it.

Louise Erdrich Yes, well, Sophie becomes like a, a surrogate for her, because Pauline sees herself as a crow, a kind of, predatory or scavenger kind of figure. But Sophie's very young, silly, and, but Pauline uses the, the darker side of, of Chippewa magic to try and get Sophie to ensnare, and again we have this, the snares of love in this, too, and snare Eli and, and, and make him make love to her as Pauline is looking on and watching.

Studs Terkel Yeah, that's it, so the, by the way, you used the word "snare," we want to come to snare, which deals with a third dramatic situation. The first was that poker game to me, which Pillager and these three guys who wanted to take her, avenge her because they lost to her and she gets her revenge by some magic I feel, plus her actual spiritual, physical strength. The second is what's happening now with Sophie and Eli and Pauline willing it. And now Sophie rushes, here comes the miracle. Now that's a remarkable scene. What, why don't you describe that, the statue in the church is of statue of the Virgin, and somebody's watching that statue of the Virgin, and here is the catatonic, almost catatonic Sophie, take over in that.

Louise Erdrich Well, it's, it's, Sophie is, really has been drawn, Fleur is a vengeful person, and perhaps she has drawn Sophie over bush and field

Studs Terkel Oh, wait, pardon me. Fleur is vengeful because Fleur

Louise Erdrich Because Fleur

Studs Terkel Eli's been Fleur's lover!

Louise Erdrich Yes,

Studs Terkel And Fleur was -- if a woman could be cuckolded, she was betrayed.

Louise Erdrich She was betrayed, and she blames Eli, and she blames Sophie and she blames Pauline, but she forgives Pauline somehow, but Sophie she draws to her front yard, and Sophie kneels down in her front yard and cannot get up, and it's as though she is rooted there, and her brothers and her, her uncles, well, they come and they try to budge her, but it's really as though she's turned to stone. They can't pick her up. She's as heavy as -- it's as though she's, she's impossible to move. And so they run to the church, and they run to Father Damien, and the brother, in a kind of desperate move, grabs the, the icon, the statue of the Virgin, and runs back into the woods with it and places the statue before Sophie and, and Pauline runs after them, too. And she witnesses, [turning pages] it's as though she can see a kind of exchange of sympathies, so the Virgin had a sympathy for Sophie, who was, who was again, with, with, innocent in a way. I mean, Sophie was used by Pauline, and she sees that the Virgin's eyes are filling with tears, the tears are falling down her face, and nobody else seems to see this.

Studs Terkel I think you know what, this is great because the writing here I find is it, I've marked some parts. You look at the part, the Virgin staring down at this girl, and the Virgin, there's the statue. She's more alive and vibrant. I think, why don't you choose? I marked three but you choose whatever you [turning pages]

Louise Erdrich There's

Studs Terkel Go ahead. There's Louise and, or Michael. Either one of you can, since this is a mutual

Louise Erdrich How about, how about, you want to read the description of the

Studs Terkel This is the scene when they bring the statue down to the almost catatonic Sophie, right? Yeah.

Michael Dorris "I have no idea which prayer I spoke that night. I cannot recall the words. I cannot remember my lips moving, whether there were notions in my head, if my knees hurt, if I hungered, if I felt anything that's lost. I do see uneven light so small in the vast dark, dim on the two faces that gazed at one another. The Virgin so curious and alive, and Sophie dull. The girl's face tipped up, slack, less human than the small statue who offered her blooded palm, her shining sun. The Virgin stared down. Her brow was clear, her cheekbones pale, her lips urgently forming a secret syllable all of a sudden trembled. That's when I saw the first tear."

Studs Terkel And then, why don't you pick up with the tears? Because now the tears, by the way, you always read about a miracle that's occurring, you know, in, in the papers, you know that, whether it be

Louise Erdrich Yeah,

Studs Terkel a city here, the suburb recently or in Italy or somewhere, there's someone saw the tears of the Virgin. Now these tears, the one where the tears were, who? Pauline, who's done this, putting the

Louise Erdrich Pauline.

Studs Terkel tear in her pocket. Why, why don't you?

Louise Erdrich "There were more. Although her expression never changed, she wept a hail of ra-rain from her wide brown eyes. Her tears froze to hard drops stuck invisibly in the corners of her mouth, formed a transparent glaze against her column throat, rolled down the stiff folds of her gown and struck the poised snake at her feet. It was then the commotion took place, not over the statue's tears, which no one else noticed, but over Sophie, who tried to rise but could not, as her knees were horribly locked, who fell sprawled in the new snow. For many months afterward, I brooded on what I'd seen. Perhaps, I thought at first, the Virgin shed tears as she looked at Sophie Morrissey because she had-herself had never known the curse of men. She had never been touched, never known the shackling heat of flesh. Then later, after Napoleon and I met again and again, after I came to him in ignorance, after I could not resist more than a night without his body, I alway -- I knew that the opposite was true." And she's brought those tears home, but they, by the time they've gotten home, they've melted in her pockets.

Studs Terkel Yeah, because these tears came down as stones, didn't they?

Louise Erdrich As stones or as ice.

Studs Terkel Ice. And she puts it in her pocket. And now they melt and become tears.

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah, and, by the way, then the reference to Napoleon, that's the one time that Pauline, who's now

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel Becoming the bride of Christ, Pauline sinned. With

Louise Erdrich With Napoleon now that

Studs Terkel Napoleon.

Louise Erdrich Because of the French mixture, people were named after Napoleon. It's not the Napoleon.

Studs Terkel Yeah. We got to take a break. We got to take a break, and, and onward we're talking to Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, who work as collaborators and yet independently, and the results become these quite exquisite novels and powerful ones, also deal with the two cultures. The Native American, and that's the phrase, isn't it? I, when I say Indian, it doesn't quite tell it, does it?

Louise Erdrich No.

Studs Terkel Always, always said Indian, haven't we? That is, we, the white, the Caucasian, it's Native American.

Louise Erdrich Well that's, that's the point of the Columbus book that we're, we're talking

Studs Terkel We'll come to that after this, and with Michael Dorris and Henry Holt the publishers, the most recent one, "Tracks," and after this message we'll resume. [pause in recording] And we're talking about the miracle that happened on the reservation.

Louise Erdrich Right.

Studs Terkel And we're talking about nar-- the story told by two different narrators, the old traditional storyteller Nanapush and the, by this time sin-ridden and almost self-flagellating Native American woman, Pauline, who's become very "white-ized," very Christianized.

Louise Erdrich Yes she has.

Studs Terkel But there's still overall, is the big thing of the land. Compromises made, the losing of the land. This, this, this is the key, isn't it? Throughout.

Michael Dorris Yes.

Studs Terkel And so the old couple, that is, Nanapush now lives with a woman, he's had many women, I take it.

Louise Erdrich Yes, he's had many

Studs Terkel Yeah. And, and Margaret, Margaret is his good and dear friend, shall we say.

Louise Erdrich Let's, let's say she's a little, a, a little stronger than he. He's stronger medi-- she's stronger medicine than he expects. He says, he gives some, some advice to young Eli, he says, women advice, he says "It's like you're a log in a stream and along comes this bear and she jumps on. Don't let her dig in her claws." But then he realizes that Margaret Kashpaw is a woman who has dug her claws in the log and peel it to a toothpick, he says. She's, she's tough, she's vinegar, but he can't help it, he's attracted to her.

Studs Terkel Yeah, but they're walking along, but they, they're're not, I mean, they're, they're not young saplings. I mean, they're pretty mature, older people now.

Louise Erdrich Sure, sure.

Studs Terkel And they're, they're being tailed, they're being followed by a couple of, Morrissey?

Louise Erdrich Morrissey

Studs Terkel And Lazarre, and they're involved with the families that are selling and furious that these guys are holding out.

Louise Erdrich They're hold out.

Michael Dorris Exactly, yeah.

Studs Terkel So what happens here?

Louise Erdrich So, they're walking along and they hear these two on the road. And, Lulu's with them, but she runs off.

Studs Terkel With the little girl.

Louise Erdrich Lulu's a little girl, and they grapple with them, and they drag them to a barn. Now they're gonna teach, really, it's even Margaret more than Kashpaw. They're gonna teach a lesson, and they're gonna teach a lesson to Margaret. Nanapush doesn't know how at first, so he tries to talk his way out of it. He tries every way he can, because that's how he gets out of things. But he sees right before he is knocked out by one of them, he sees a razor come out of the jacket, and he sees them going toward Margaret, and he thinks it's over for them.

Studs Terkel But it isn't, they do something else, something perhaps even worse.

Louise Erdrich Perhaps even

Studs Terkel As far as symbol, the braids, the hair, the beauty.

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel Of the Native American woman. Off. And so there's the humiliation. And now they go back to the community. And Fleur Pillager. How is Fleur related to Margaret or, or Nanapush?

Michael Dorris Fleur is, is like Nanapush's daughter because her whole family died of disease and he saved her. And so they have a kind of father and daughter

Studs Terkel So in a way it's father daughter. And she does it to herself, by God. Fleur

Louise Erdrich That's right.

Studs Terkel But now she's looking for the two guys.

Louise Erdrich And she comes after them.

Studs Terkel And here again comes her curse.

Louise Erdrich But Nanapush has warned them. He said, "Don't you know she can think about you hard enough to stop your heart?" But they have not listened to that warning, and in this tussle that Margaret bit Lazarre's hand, giving him a, a wound, which is traveling up his arm slowly, blood poisoning, in the meantime, Nectar and Nanapush decide to turn to animal snares for their revenge, and to snare this Clarence Morrissey.

Studs Terkel And the snare, by that, snare figures in so many ways, the word "snare," the idea of snare. This, by the way, this particular sequence was in "Harper's" I was reading, the snare and, but also it's the knowledge of nature, it's gotta be -- they take piano wires.

Louise Erdrich From, only from either end of the piano, because Father Damien usually plays from the middle of

Studs Terkel He plays from the middle! And think of from the either end, and he, and, what happens to Clarence Morrissey, it's Clarence, isn't it?

Louise Erdrich Clarence.

Studs Terkel What happens to him is incredible.

Louise Erdrich Well

Studs Terkel There again.

Louise Erdrich He comes walking down the trail and, you know, to set a snare, you have to anticipate what the prey is going to do. And so they set this snare right at the beginning, at the beginning of a little clearing, where they figure that he'll be looking forward into the clearing to see if anybody's out there rather than looking right around him. And so, he steps right in.

Studs Terkel Yeah, and then what happened?

Louise Erdrich But then what happens.

Studs Terkel And later on another snare.

Louise Erdrich But then he, he somehow in, in one instant of knowledge, something tells this Clarence to spread his legs as wide as he can, because they have a deadfall hole dug underneath, and his, he barely manages to perch on the sides of the hole and keep his head up in the noose, and they walk up to him, and he doesn't, he, he doesn't even change the expression on his face, he's so terrified, and they say, Nanapush says, "You see this man? He's never thought this hard before. But then he looks into his eyes, and he pities him, and that's what Nanapush would do. He pities him, but he leaves him standing there. He doesn't take him down.

Studs Terkel By the way, he's on his toes while he's straddling, and any move will strangle

Louise Erdrich That's right. Any move. Any move will strangle him. But he, he manages to get out of that. But the other

Studs Terkel But Nanapush doesn't, had enough. He figures, well, le-let it go. But the snare though, has an ironic thing. Later on Nanapush senses a snare for him.

Louise Erdrich Yes,

Studs Terkel With the agent and the signing. Now comes another kind of snare, don't we?

Michael Dorris Yeah, yeah. It'd be a trap that the government has, has set in terms of raising interest rates on land and, and taking the most sacred land out of their possession.

Studs Terkel So the snare somehow figures doesn't

Louise Erdrich it It

Studs Terkel in so many ways.

Louise Erdrich It does, it becomes the metaphor for

Studs Terkel To use as the, of course, so at the end, when more and more the pressure is on, the [death suit?] on, on the traditional

Louise Erdrich Yes.

Studs Terkel Guy like Nanapush or like Fleur, there has to almost, the very end. And this woman who adopted Pauline, Bernadette, she becomes the agent.

Louise Erdrich That's right. She moves in

Studs Terkel This is, is this part of history? This is part of contemporary history, too, isn't it?

Louise Erdrich This kind of thing,

Michael Dorris It's a take on it, yeah, it's not exactly, but it's

Studs Terkel No, I mean, in talking about the tribal

Michael Dorris Oh sure,

Louise Erdrich Oh, yes, it's happening now,

Studs Terkel Yeah, that's what I mean, that guy McDonald, what's his name. Isn't that guy McDonald?

Michael Dorris Peter

Louise Erdrich But there's, there's this happening many places where there's this, this controversy over, over land, resources, where there's, where there's pressure to, to sell or pressure to hold on

Michael Dorris Or people believing that this is the best deal they will ever get, and they'd better make this deal because nothing else will be possible.

Studs Terkel But old Fleur, though, she's the last, she will not, and she wants a walk into the water, doesn't she? Fleur?

Louise Erdrich Yes, yes, she's, she, she's not, she, she will not change. Not even to accommodate.

Michael Dorris She can't. She can't. I mean, she, she is part of the lake and part of the land and, and she can be beaten and she can be stripped down to the barest essentials, but she's not destroyed.

Studs Terkel Well, Fleur then is both, and she's a real woman, flesh and blood. But also she's an allegorical being, too, isn't she?

Michael Dorris And, and I think she realizes that. I mean, she sees herself as the last of a long line of, of a very important family who can't concede.

Studs Terkel You know, and then you get Nanapush at the end sees this, and, and Pauline becomes Sister Leopolda, and here you, he see the split. But the old boy is still holding on at the end, he has to make a little compromise, doesn't he? To survive.

Louise Erdrich He has to make a compromise, but he, as Michael said, I think that's, that's true, he manipulates the system and does not become part of

Michael Dorris And it's a compromise made out of love, not out of greed. He loves his granddaughter and he compromises to save her. And he does.

Studs Terkel And next, then next we hear from Lulu, now grown up in "Love Medicine" and later "The Beet Queen." This is enough of "Tracks," for now, I think, except for the audience, and the audience, listeners, I love the audience, that's a hambone talking on stage, the audience, you know. The listeners know that this is power, powerhouse, and it grips you, it's gripping, it's great out loud reading, too, by the way, and it's "Tracks." "Tracks" why? The name "Tracks."

Louise Erdrich Well, you, it, it, for one thing, you, you remember Margaret, and she's looking at the writing on the page and it's tracks to her and because, you know, Fleur, you know, she, they, they, they see her tracks of bare feet. Her bare feet change into the tracks of the bear as she walks along.

Michael Dorris And it's because the hunter is so good that they can track the deer back to where it was born. You know, I mean it's

Studs Terkel Oh, it's a great mini-sequence about the hunting, the beer and how the moose, Eli the hunter makes the moose in his own image. He almost makes the moose

Louise Erdrich Now this is, this is the, this is a part that Michael actually just knew this right to the, Michael said, "This is a gift. I'm gonna tell you how to hunt moose," and he did.

Studs Terkel That's the reason. "Tracks," Louise Erdrich, though it's both Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Henry Holt the publishers. Enough of this for now. Of course, for after this break, perhaps a few more minutes to talk about that project involving Christopher Columbus after this message. [pause in recording] For the last five or six minutes or so, I think the project at, you were saying, Michael about, you named two projects. I was thinking of the Christopher Columbus one. What were you

Michael Dorris The next book is "The Broken Cord," which is our book about fetal alcohol syndrome and how it affects Indians. That'll be published next August. That's what happens when a woman drinks during her pregnancy.

Studs Terkel This, by, by the way, I suppose we have to bring that fourth. That, what the white guy did. Was there alcoholism, looking back before, before the white man came.

Michael Dorris There was absolutely nothing north of the Rio Grande that, like alcohol or drugs, absolutely nothing. And, and Indians learned how to use alcohol from trappers and traders who used it in a deviant way by European standards.

Studs Terkel And of course, we know this has become the curse. You know, there they say the curse of the Irish, they'd say, who's with a curse, but especially of young Indians I see who've come to the big city and are lost. And there's that brown paper bag and in it is Ripple wine, you know. That that's become the big one. That's almost the legacy of, of the trader, isn't it?

Michael Dorris It is.

Studs Terkel And so you, you

Michael Dorris We're talking about what happens to babies before they're born with it, yeah. And, and we have six chil-- we have five children, a sixth expected soon, and our, our oldest son is adopted and is himself a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is how we became interested in this and began to learn about it, and so it's, it's his story, but it's the story of, of, of thousands of kids in this country.

Studs Terkel And so that's gonna be the book. You and I both know of Ramona Bennett, near Tacoma Puyallup.

Michael Dorris Right.

Studs Terkel Indian Puyallup. And she, of course, is very aware of this. She fought it herself, and now that's her mission. The booze that was put upon them and its effect. So that's -- but now we come to Chris, now the Christopher Columbus.

Louise Erdrich Yeah, there's cer-a connection there because some of the proceeds of that book and the next book go into the fetal alcohol syndrome research and maybe education, but the big book that we're both go to write, and it's gonna have both our names on it is on Christopher Columbus, and it's a turn-around. A Native American woman discovers Columbus.

Michael Dorris Well, yeah, it's sort of on Columbus, and it, it's, it's in the process of being written right now, so we don't know everything about it. But we know that the main character is a woman named Vivian Two Star, and she is a, a, an academic. And she is assigned, and she's pregnant. And she's assigned a, for her alumni magazine to write an article on Christopher Columbus.

Studs Terkel She's a contemporary figure.

Louise Erdrich Yeah, it's happening in

Studs Terkel She's

Michael Dorris Yeah.

Studs Terkel She's a Native American scholar.

Michael Dorris A grumpy Native American

Studs Terkel scholar. What?

Michael Dorris A grumpy Native American

Studs Terkel Drunken?

Michael Dorris Scholar, yeah. [laughing] And, and the final indignity is that she is, is required to write an article for an alumni magazine on Christopher Columbus. But she's bored to death with Christopher Columbus, so she goes in the library, and through a series of, of events, she comes across a fragment of a lost journal of Christopher Columbus. And there really is a lost journal of Christopher Columbus, and she begins to piece it together and, and track it down, and it turns out that the whole, the whole business was not as our history books have told us it was, that Columbus was not who he's, we think he was, that the adventure was not what we think it was, and in this process of discovering that, Vivian's life has changed, the country's life has changed. It's a real shocker.

Studs Terkel Well, that sounds like a project that's gonna be a blockbuster. More than that, it's gonna open the whole idea is who discovered America, which is a joke to begin with.

Louise Erdrich Sure.

Studs Terkel Who discovered America? It was here!

Louise Erdrich Yeah,

Michael Dorris Well, of course, the old, the old Indian joke goes, when they saw two Indians standing on a, on a bluff, looking and seeing the three ships come in and, one of them turns to the other and they say, "There goes the neighborhood."

Studs Terkel Yeah. We're talking to Louise Erdrich and to Michael Dorris, and we'll look forward for both the, the fetal alcohol syndrome book, but also, of course, the Columbus book as seen through the eyes of the scholar, and right now "Tracks" is the book, that most recent of the trilogy, Louise Erdrich, Henry Holt the publishers, and thank you very much.

Louise Erdrich Thank you.

Michael Dorris