The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

by Louise Erdrich
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Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

The novel explores aspects of the lives of the Pillager, Puyat, and Kashpaw families on and near Ojibwe Native American reservations in the Dakotas. This novel focuses on Father Damien and the secret he keeps, as well as his relationships with other priests and nuns and with the members of his "flock," to whom he devotes his life.

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Alternating between contemporary times and numerous past periods, the story gradually reveals the main secret concerning Father Damien's identity and misdeeds. Despite his efforts to lead a spiritual life and make amends, he is drawn into further secrecy.

From an introductory sequence presenting the priest's communication with the Pope, the novel moves back eighty years to tell the story of Sister Agnes and the challenges the young nun faces, often unsuccessfully. When she assumes the dead priest's identity, the stage is set for the long, complex saga that spans eight decades and keeps the reader wondering whether he/she will be exposed.

Secular characters and the hardships of Native life, including forced assimilation through boarding schools, are developed throughout. Sister Leopolda, formerly Pauline Puyat, ties this novel to Erdrich's earlier Tracks and helps hold the plot together through her attention to the "miracles" and the secrets she also harbors. Sent from the Vatican, Father Jude Miller investigates the miracles; by giving the reader knowledge of what Father Jude Miller may never discover, Erdrich makes us feel invested in the characters' lives and even complicit in helping them keep the past buried.

Introduction

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse plunges readers into the lifetime saga of Father Damien and his work among the Ojibwes on the Little No Horse reservation. A prologue, containing a 1996 a letter to the pope from Father Damien, begins the book’s four-part narration by returning to 1910-1912. As in all Erdrich’s work, landscape plays a major role. “Eighty-some years previous, through a town that was to flourish and past a farm that would disappear, the river slid—all that happened began with that flow of water.” Novitiate Sister Cecelia, the former Agnes De Witt, is introduced as a young nun whose piano playing contains such emotion it disturbs her community and prompts her leaving. The arrangements she makes to live on a nearby farm catapult her into an adventure that will engulf her life. An accidental brush with petty criminals causes her common-law husband’s death and sets the stage for the rest of the novel. Themes of passionate devotion, religious life, individual will, and survival in the face of overwhelming odds are set in motion in part 1, “The Transfiguration of Agnes.” After a disastrous flood washes her out of her home, Agnes takes the role of Father Damien Modeste, a drowned priest whose body she finds. She walks onto Ojibwe land, and the novel’s main conceit is in place.

Throughout part 2, “The Deadly Conversions,” and part 3, “Memory...

(The entire section contains 762 words.)

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