i've just finished reading Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. this was her first novel, i believe, and as such, it is rather raw yet extremely beautiful and powerful at the same time. this book has got to be a classic.
part of the reason i feel it has been so important for me to read, is because it's given me a chance to process a lot of my feelings about the native american element in my own life: my feelings of loss, because my life took me away from 'native america' for so many years and yet has brought me around full circle back to it. so there is wonder, grief, regret, joy and appreciation in the experience for me.
also, this book allows me to vicariously live the life i might've lived - or something close to it, since our tribe does not have any reservations anymore - if my coloring had been a little different so that i was more obviously a part of our group, or if my mother had given me more instruction in the correct etiquette to observe. i really do understand why she may have hesitated to tell me the truth in the first place. you had to be there, perhaps, to know what i mean. but the book allowed me to imagine what may have happened in the lives of Angie, Philip, the Hammonds, Andersons, Strausses and Moores. It allowed me to remember Ronny R, Christine K, the Scul---ys, and others. not that i would have wanted to have their lives, because, in fact, they were very difficult. i've had my problems too, but i've also had the way out.
in the book, there is a character who doesn't know his parentage. he's been adopted and raised by the woman who is really his great-aunt, a woman known for taking in strays. the reader is clued in from the beginning as to who his mother is, so the reader knows he really is a part of the family, but the character doesn't learn the identities of his mother and father until the end of the book. his process, while somewhat different from mine, is also somewhat similar, and i found it helpful to walk through that process with him.
one of the important lessons for me in his story is to recognize, along with him, that the child (of his mother) who was acknowledged has had a very tough road to tread, while he, who was her secret child, slipped under the radar and was allowed to live his own life, be his own self, and find his own way back to his parents and ultimately to himself.
i found the whole book really healing for me to read. not always easy, by any means. but extremely rewarding. i highly recommend it to anyone interested in native american lives, or just in human life, or simply in the most masterful level of writing.