THE ROAD BACK TO SWEETGRASS
A novel by Linda LeGarde Grover.
2014 University of Minnesota Press.
THE DANCE BOOTS
Short Story Collection by Linda LeGarde Grover.
2012University of Georgia Press.
Review by Richie Swanson
Linda LeGarde Grover of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwa joined the ranks of the world’s great novelists last year, publishing The Road Back to Sweetgrass. She renders the boarding school era and reservation era as powerfully as John Steinbeck migrant farmers, Albert Camus Algeria, Leslie Silko and Scott Momaday Pueblo life. Think Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Scott Momaday, D’Arcy McNickle, David Seals.
Grover’s short-story collection The Dance Boots won the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award and was reissued as a paperback in 2012. It includes Four Indians in the Mirror, a masterpiece as fine as Silko’s Yellow Woman and John Sky’s One They Gave Away, translated from Haida by Robert Bringhurst. Told in contemporary style, the story encapsulates with all the visceral power of indigenous myth-telling the harrowing impacts of racism and discrimination, and the human bond of brothers and tribes, the grit of war vets in a Minneapolis bar.
Grover’s novel asks who owns the land–the name on a government paper–or the descendants of an umbilical cord buried in sweetgrass? Her fiction evokes the prohibition of Indian language, the disciplinarian’s belt, the lockup room in the missionary school’s basement, white hands examining a “spoiled” Ojibwa girl, administering Ojibwa births and taking away Ojibwa babies.
Mothers, sisters and aunts beautifully pass on culture under assault, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Grover’s protagonists spread through her stories like birds through air and berries shaken into baskets, rendering families much larger than nuclear. Her scenes and characters move as fluidly and unpredictably as dreams through sleep, with so much immediacy I woke from them, asking, “What was it?” I re-read both books, they grew richer.
Grover’s truth-telling mourns, heals, haunts and also celebrates survival.
Review appeared in Whispering Wind Magazine Vol.43 No. 4 Issue # 296.