The author tells the story of two Native-American (Chippewa) families whose lives interweave through several generations during the years 1934-1984. The primary setting is a reservation in North Dakota. The main characters, Marie and Nector Kashpaw and Lulu Lamartine, are colorful, sympathetic people caught in a love triangle that endures for most of their adult lives. "Love medicine" represents an attempt by a Kashpaw grandson to assure once and for all that his aging grandfather will love and be true to his wife and cease "hankering after the Lamartine." The plan ends in disaster when corners are cut and the authentic old Indian customs for preparing the "love medicine" are circumvented.

There is a strong sense of the blending of cultures--religion, medicine, commerce, education all take on the distinctive qualities of an evolving mixed culture. Displacement and disenfranchisement are a fact of life, taken almost for granted, with humor, but not without a response. "They gave you worthless land to start with and then they chopped it out from under your feet. They took your kids away and stuffed the English language in their mouth . . . They sold you booze for furs and then told you not to drink. It was time, high past time, the Indians smartened up and started using the only leverage they had-federal law." (p. 326) So begins an initiative to establish a gambling casino; "gambling fit into the old traditions . . . . "


Erdrich is from North Dakota, of German and Chippewa descent. The book, her first novel, was originally published in 1984 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. This edition is "new and expanded."

With humor and in language that is arrestingly poetic, Erdrich portrays the fundamental human capacities for love, jealousy, devotion, generosity, greed, endurance, and despair within the framework of twentieth century Native-American culture. Erdrich is never judgmental about her characters. Alcoholism, infidelity, even criminality are a part of human experience. Her approach to the protagonists is one we would like to see in our physicians: aware, thorough, empathetic, tolerant.


First published: 1984. This novel won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award.


Harper Collins: Harper Perennial

Place Published

New York


1993 (paperback)

Page Count