For over half a century, Father Damien Modeste has lived a secret life as a woman, while serving his beloved people, the Ojibwe, on the remote reservation of Little No Horse. Now nearing the end of his life, Father Damien dreads the discovery of his physical identity. To complicate his fears, his quiet life changes when a troubled colleague comes to the reservation to investigate the life of the perplexing, difficult, possibly false saint, Sister Leopolda. Father Damien alone knows the strange truth of Sister Leopolda's piety, but the facts are bound up in his own secret. He is forced to choose: Should he reveal all he knows and risk everything Or should he manufacture a protective history In a masterwork that both deepens and enlarges the world of her previous novels set on the same reservation, Louise Erdrich captures the essence of a time and the spirit of a woman who feels compelled by her beliefs to serve her people as a priest.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Erdrich renders her North Dakota world of the Ojibwe with a lyrical and richly metaphorical prose style. Her narrative is interspersed with dozens of comic, tragic and all-too-human stories that illuminate her lively, complex and often bizarre Ojibwe people and the priests who come to convert them and minister to their needs. She compassionately portrays Father Damien (ne Agnes DeWitt) through worldly and spiritual joy, confusion and crisis. Erdrich commingles and explores many world views as Father Damien's life and thought are continually and profoundly reshaped by the lives, events, rites and rituals of the parishioners who come to love him so deeply. But some of the book's strengths become problems for listeners e.g., complicated family relations, complex exposition, confusing jumps back and forth between different time frames throughout an entire century. Fields has a pleasing voice, a fine feel for the material and the characters and a knack for low-key dramatization. But she has a narrow vocal range that becomes tiresome through 14.5 hours of tape. Based on the HarperCollins hardcover. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 31, 2002
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Excerpt from The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
THE OLD PRIEST
The grass was white with frost on the shadowed sides of the reservation hills and ditches, but the morning air was almost warm, sweetened by a southern wind. Father Damien's best hours were late at night and just after rising, when all he'd had to break his fast was a cup of hot water. He was old, very old, but alert until he had to eat. Dressed in his antique cassock, he sat in his favorite chair, contemplating the graveyard that spread just past the ragged yard behind his retirement house and up a low hill. His thoughts seemed to penetrate sheer air, the maze of tree branches waving above the stones, clouds, sky, even time itself, and they surged from his brain, tense, quickly, one on the next until he'd eaten his tiny meal of toast and coffee. Just after, Father Damien's mind relaxed. His habit was then to doze again, often straight into his afternoon nap.
A period of waking confusion plagued him, usually before the supper hour, sometimes and most embarrassingly while he said late afternoon Saturday Mass. When lucid again, Father Damien repaired for the evening to his desk, a place from which he refused to be disturbed. There, he wrote fierce political attacks, reproachful ecclesiastical letters, memoirs of reservation life for history journals, and poetry. He also composed lengthy documents, which he called reports, to send to the Pope -- he had in fact addressed every pontiff since he had come to the reservation in 1912. During his writing, Father Damien drank a few drops of wine, and usually, by the time he was ready for bed, he was what he called "pacified." This night, however, the wine had the opposite effect -- it sharpened instead of dulled his fervor, sped instead of slowed the point of his cracked plastic pen, focused his mind.
To His Holiness, the Pope
The Vatican, Rome, Italy
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
From the pen of
Father Damien Modeste
Your Holiness, I speak to you from a terrible distance. I have so much to tell you, and so little time. A desperate gravity has hold of me these days. I am sure that my death must at last be near. That is why I address you with such familiarity and in such haste. Please forgive my awkwardness. I don't have time to revise!
My hand is distressingly shaky, but legible enough, I hope
I have no idea whether any of my previous letters have reached you -- the body of my correspondence stretches back over the course of this century, but those most recent are, naturally, addressed to you. My letters contain documented evidence from a variety of sources, including actual confessions. I kept the identity of one murderer, in fact, a secret, an anguish I taste even now. Aternus Pater, you have in your possession enough material to fill at least several vaults of file cabinets. Dare I hope, since this will be the last of my reports, that at long last you will see fit to answer