The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
by Louise Erdrich
Harper Collins, 356 pp., $26

Magic is not solely the province of magicians, and when it is produced by a writer with the creative talent of Louise Erdrich, it can be even more amazing. For most of us, reading the classics is ever on our list of good intentions, only to be postponed indefinitely in favor of the latest "good read."
Here we find both genres combined in a rollicking tale of a lust-filled love affair, a brutal murder, a bank robbery, a monstrous flood and a Catholic priest who is in reality a nun. This story snaps and crackles in the telling. It is full of miracles as each of us is a witness to the wonders that take place at Little No Horse (an Indian reservation in the Dakotas) more than a century ago.
Cecilia, the nun who becomes Father Damien, was obsessed by her blind passion for the piano and the music her inspired hands could create. It caused her separation from her vows and the convent; she feared her love for music surpassed her love for God.
"My child, my dear child," comforted the Mother Superior, "come away and rest yourself."
The young nun, breathing deeply, refused. Her severe gray eyes were rimmed in smoky red. Her lips bled purple. She was in torment. "There is no rest," she declared, and then she unpinned her veil and studiously dismantled her habit. She folded each piece with reverence and set it upon the piano bench. With each movement the Superior remonstrated with Cecilia in the most tender and compassionate tones. However, just as in the depth of her playing the virgin had become the woman, so the woman in the habit became a woman to the bone. She stripped down to her shift, but no further. Quoting, from page 16:
"He wouldn't want me to go out unprotected," she told her Mother Superior.
"God?" the older woman asked, bewildered.
"Chopin," Cecilia answered.

Religion has always been an intently personal subject, and rarely is a writer able to express clearly its deeper meanings — to make one say, "Yes, that's the way it is."
The lyrical quality of the language in "The Last Reports" shines a light into the innermost parts of the human spirit. It clears the way for one to understand how faith can spring from the heart and how that faith can make life worth living. The prose of this novel makes 9-to-5 life recede, as the people in the book become more real than those around us.
Father Damien has been sent, by God it appears, to represent the Church on the Indian reservation at Little No Horse in North Dakota. The "Report" of the title comprises the letters from Father Damien to the Pope, to whom he has been writing for more than 50 years. He pleads for a reply at the end of each one, but silence is all that ensues. Although discouraged, he never loses hope and the reports continue, ending with fervent pleas for counsel and direction.
Decades slide by while the Indians of North Dakota are living in frigid poverty, their land gradually stolen from them by crooks and shysters. Father Damien and the reservation convent minister to their flock, and through the everyday events in these people's secret lives, they become warmly familiar to us.
Two visiting priests, Father Gregory and Father Jude, make a deep impact on the life of Father Damien and the mission. Father Jude has been sent by the Vatican to make inquiries about Sister Leopolda, a candidate for possible sainthood. His search lifts many veils, clearing long-hidden mysteries that are both shocking and awe inspiring. Erdrich's brilliant style is never slow or tiresome. We rush to follow the journey drawn by her elegant prose, wondering if it could be set to music.
"Last Report" is thoroughly enjoyable. It takes you on a moving journey to live with a tribe of people who care immensely about one another but not very much about money and the things it buys. It's an exceptional mind-set, and a fascinating book.
"The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse" is available at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall on St. Thomas. To check out other Dockside favorites, click here.


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