ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The new novel "LaRose" opens with a tragedy. A man named Landreaux is out hunting for deer, and he accidentally shoots and kills his best friend's 5-year-old son, Dusty. This scene is where the boy's father returns to the site of the accident.
LOUISE ERDRICH: (Reading) Now Peter lay down on the place where Dusty's life had flowed into the earth, closed his eyes, listened to the sound of the woods around him. He heard a chickadee, a faraway nuthatch, a crow ragged in the distance. He heard his own voice crying out, until the sound was exhausted. There was the hum and tick of twigs, leaves, rush of pine needles, the scent of sweet grass, tobacco, kinnikinnick, offerings. Landreaux had been there, too.
SHAPIRO: That's Louise Erdrich reading from her new book, "LaRose." Welcome to the program.
ERDRICH: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Your writing often incorporates themes from your Ojibwe Indian tribe. And in this story, the two families deal with this horrible hunting accident by embracing a tradition from the past. Explain what this tradition is.
ERDRICH: It wouldn't actually be a tradition, but it would be something that could happen in a situation of this sort. And that would be an adoption between two families. For a while, the fact that children could be adopted within the family, could be living with aunts or uncles or grandparents, was really appalling to social services. You know, this was - this was not how things operated. But that's really the way families work in native settings.
SHAPIRO: And so in this novel, the five-year-old boy LaRose goes to live with the family of five-year-old Dusty, who was killed.
ERDRICH: Yes. These two families are related by blood and also by proximity and by friendship, too. So Landreaux, who is responsible for killing Dusty, also has a five-year-old son. Those two were playmates. And he and Emmeline decide that they will bring their child to their sister, their neighbor, their friends, and they will share their child. It's not exactly giving away a child, but it is a very profound act of generosity. It also is an act of reparation for something that's an unspeakable tragedy.
SHAPIRO: The entire book is about this relationship, but it also stretches back into history.
SHAPIRO: And as you explore the idea of justice, it seems that there are parallels between the government's efforts to undo damage that they did to Indian people over the decades
SHAPIRO: And the very small personal effort between these two families to undo the damage that was done when this 5-year-old was killed. And in both cases, it seems that there are some things that simply cannot be reversed, and whatever you try to do to accomplish justice will, in some way, be unable to bandage the wound.
ERDRICH: Oh, I think that's so true. That's the profound truth of it. And - that some of the most well-meaning gestures end up hurting the person more than you could've ever imagined. For instance, in the beginning, the idea of bringing everyone into the dominant culture was seen as - as very generous, boldly and interesting, wonderful thing to do. I mean, the alternative was extermination. It was education or extermination. And that's the point at which the acculturation seemed as though it was generous. And it was terrible. It was a terrible thing to do. It was one of the things that tore up the family structure for native people. It's taken generations for people to begin to restore their balance.
SHAPIRO: Is restoration even an attainable goal? Is it even worth pursuing if, inevitably, you know, these ruptures will never be fully healed?
ERDRICH: Oh, I don't think it's inevitable. I think that we have to muddle toward it, and that's how life works. We think we have a great idea, and we try to live it out. And muddling toward things is really the best we can do. We're not - nobody has the perfect idea. Sometimes, it does work. Sometimes, there's something very good that comes out of - out of a program or an idea that someone has to help another person. So I think it's important to give it the best try we can.
SHAPIRO: And is that with these two families do in sharing the 5-year-old LaRose?
ERDRICH: I believe they do. And I believe something very good does come out of it, yes.
SHAPIRO: Louise Erdrich, author of the new book "LaRose." Thank you so much for joining us.
ERDRICH: Thank you, Ari. It's been a pleasure.
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