Review by Booklist Review
The many-hued, finely patterned weave of Erdrich's funny, evocative, painful, and redemptive ghost story includes strands of autobiography and even cameo appearances. The haunting occurs at Erdrich's actual Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books. The unhappy spirit is that of a former customer, Flora, who irritated the Native staff members, especially Tookie, with her dubious claims of an Indigenous heritage. Tookie is supremely dedicated to her work, forever amazed, given her prison record, to have been hired by store owner Louise. The story of Tookie's body-snatching caper and subsequent horrifically long sentence is hilariously ludicrous and heartbreaking; the tale of how reading saved her life in prison is deeply affirming. A magnetizing narrator, Tookie seems tough and ornery, but she is actually quite "porous" emotionally and suffused with love for her tribal leader husband, Pollux, in spite of their complicated past. As Tookie tries to appease Flora, she and her bookstore colleagues--a teacher, an historian, and an artist--confront historic ghosts from the violent seizing of the land by white settlers as the fear and sorrow of the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, and the city ignites in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Erdrich's insights into what her city experienced in 2020 are piercing; all her characters are enthralling, and her dramatization of why books are essential to our well-being is resounding.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Erdrich's unique take on the first COVID year and the power of books will be on countless TBR lists.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Pulitzer winner Erdrich (The Night Watchman) returns with a scintillating story about a motley group of Native American booksellers haunted by the spirit of a customer. In 2019 Minneapolis, Tookie, a formerly incarcerated woman, is visited at a bookstore by the ghost of Flora, a white woman with a problematic past. Despite being a dedicated ally of myriad Native causes, Flora fabricated a family lineage linking her to various Indigenous groups including Dakota and Ojibwe. Many of the story's characters reckon with both personal and ancestral hauntings: Tookie with a childhood of neglect and her time in prison for unknowingly trafficking drugs; her husband, Pollux, a former tribal police officer, confronts his past experiences of using force after the murder of George Floyd; and Asema, a college student of Ojibwe and Sisseton Dakota descent, pieces together an ominous historical manuscript depicting the abduction of a 19th-century Ojibwe-Cree woman, which Flora's daughter brought to the store. As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold and the store pivots to mail orders, several of the characters join the protests against police brutality. More than a gripping ghost story, this offers profound insights into the effects of the global pandemic and the collateral damage of systemic racism. It adds up to one of Erdrich's most sprawling and illuminating works to date. Agent: Andrew Wylie, The Wylie Agency. (Nov.)This review has been updated to reflect the final version of the book.
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Review by Library Journal Review
Opening on All Souls' Day 2019 and closing on All Souls' Day 2020, thus embracing a year of pandemic and protest, this latest novel from National Book Award winner Erdrich chronicles the experiences of an Ojibwe woman named Tookie who works at an independent bookstore in Minneapolis after her release from prison. Her life changes when the ghost of a recently deceased customer begins haunting the bookstore, pushing her and Ojibwe colleague Asema toward painful personal revelations with deep historical resonance. Meanwhile, Tookie launches a complicated relationship with Pollux, the tribal police officer who had arrested her years previously and has always cared about her. With a 150,000-copy first printing.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
The most recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction--for The Night Watchman (2020)--turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters. Erdrich is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis and, in this often funny novel, the favorite bookstore of Flora, one of narrator Tookie's "most annoying customers." Flora wants to be thought of as Indigenous, a "very persistent wannabe" in the assessment of Tookie, who's Ojibwe. Flora appears at the store one day with a photo of her great-grandmother, claiming the woman was ashamed of being Indian: "The picture of the woman looked Indianesque, or she might have just been in a bad mood," Tookie decides. Flora dies on All Souls' Day 2019 with a book splayed next to her--she didn't have time to put a bookmark in it--but she continues shuffling through the store's aisles even after her cremation. Tookie is recently out of prison for transporting a corpse across state lines, which would have netted her $26,000 had she not been ratted out and had the body not had crack cocaine duct-taped to its armpits, a mere technicality of which Tookie was unaware. Tookie is also unaware that Flora considered Tookie to be her best friend and thus sticks to her like glue in the afterlife, even smacking a book from the fiction section onto the floor during a staff meeting at Birchbark. The novel's humor is mordant: "Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism." The characters are also haunted by the George Floyd murder, which occurred in Minneapolis; they wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich's love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism. A novel that reckons with ghosts--of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America's violent, dark habits. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.