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The Painted Drum: A Novel Hardcover – September 6, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Though Erdrich's latest lyrical novel returns to Ojibwe territory (Four Souls; Love Medicine, etc.), it departs from the concentrated vigor of her best work in its breadth of storytelling. Erdrich essays the grief that comes when the sins of parents become mortal for their children. Native American antiquities specialist Faye Travers, bereaved of her sister and father, ambivalently in love with a sculptor who has lost his wife and loses his daughter, stumbles onto a ceremonial drum when she handles the estate of John Jewett Tatro, whose grandfather was an agent at the Ojibwe reservation. Under its spell, she secrets it away and eventually repatriates it to that reservation on the northern plains—the home of her grandmother. The drum is revived, as are those around it. Gracefully weaving many threads, Erdrich details the multigenerational history surrounding the drum. Despite her elegant story and luminous prose, many of the characters feel sketchy compared to Erdrich's previous titans, and several redemptions seem too pat. But even at low voltage, Erdrich crafts a provocative read elevated by beautiful imagery, as when children near death fly off like skeletal ravens. (Sept.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Not her best, not her worst, say critics of Erdrich’s 10th novel. Yet though it’s leaner than works like The Master Butchers Singing Club and not as brilliant as others, it’s pure Erdrich, full of grace, legend, and mysticism. Here, she weaves together three stories, each about mother-child relationships, over time and place. Critics agree that Ojibwe elder Bernard Shaawano’s story is the strongest and most memorable; Erdrich renders reservation life impeccably. Faye’s story, by contrast, is a little too sentimental; as a character, she is more "dull-plumaged" than interesting (Houston Chronicle). Still, the novel possesses a charming, mystical power, and the story resounds. Despite the serious, ominous tone of the novel, it’s actually a tale of redemption—even joy.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060515104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060515102
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #570,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her debut novel, Love Medicine, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent novel, The Plague of Doves, a New York Times bestseller, received the highest praise from Philip Roth, who wrote, "Louise Erdrich's imaginative freedom has reached its zenith--The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece." Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gale Z on September 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The story of the painted drum is a tale that blends the pragmatism of the modern world with the unexplained mystical forces that inexplicably bind past and present together. When estate appraiser, Faye Travers discovers the drum found in the attic of a deceased client, she does something that she's never been tempted to do. She steals it and seeks out its rightful owner. When she finds the family of the man who initially crafted the drum, she hears the story of how it came into being. She comes to understand how the drum itself may have compelled her to act on its behalf.

Louise Erdrich is a verbal artist. Through her carefully crafted prose, I could smell the dust rising from the prairie, hear the wind rustling the grass and feel the texture of the drum. The Painted Drum gives us a snapshot into the lives of people who must reconcile tradition with reality.

This was the first novel I've read by this author. At times, the story came vividly into focus and was quite engrossing. At other times, I found it difficult to maintain a firm grasp on the story as it was told by the various characters. However, overall, it left a mark that won't soon be forgotten.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Painted Drum" is a marvelously crafted novel that traces the history of a drum and the people whose lives it touches. Primarily set in New Hampshire, the story opens with a quiet introspective contemplation by one of the novel's narrators. ". . . I am lost in my thoughts and pause too long where the cemetery road meets the two-lane highway. This distraction seems partly age, but there is more too, I think." This opening paves the way for the unfolding of Faye's life in the small New England town where she has spent her entire existence. Faye and her mother, Elise, are proprietors of a business that specialized in estate liquidation. It is through this business that Faye finds the tribal drum that is at the novel's center. Upon first sight, Faye knows that the drum is powerful. Her attachment to it is immediate and indefinable. After a period, Faye decides that she will locate the drum's original owners and return it. In locating the owners, the novel shifts setting and an entirely new cast of characters populate the story. I found the story to be at it richest when telling about the making of the drum and the people involved with it.

Erdrich's story telling abilities are keen. I was easily wrapped up in each character's story. The relationships explored in the novel are subtly interrogated with lyrical language that's pregnant with meaning. The novel is set in three parts, each of which could be a short story; each connected by the tribal ancestors and stories that inhabit the drum. "The Painted Drum" is another superb novel by Erdrich. I read "Love Medicine" a few months back and it was familiar and pleasing to be reintroduced to the Pillagers clan in Erdrich's latest novel. Now I'm motivated to read more of her works just to see how many of her characters have lives that span multiple novels. This is a quality read; enjoy it!
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Format: Hardcover
(No spoilers here.) In the opening pages, Faye Travers, an estate agent in New Hampshire, inventories the home of John Jewett Tatro, whose grandfather was an Indian agent, and whose grandmother was an Ojibwe. When Faye opens an attic room, she finds a collection of enormous value, including an incredible drum, hollowed out from a single piece of cedar wood and covered by a moose hide.

The history of the "Little Girl" drum takes the reader from New Hampshire to an Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota. Bernard Shaawano, who is the grandson of the drum's maker, narrates this section, telling about the life of his grandfather, why he made the drum, who he was memorializing, and how this drum eventually came to New Hampshire. The fascinating process by which the drum was made, the ceremonies and traditional beliefs associated with it, and the traumatic lives and deaths of the Shaawano family over three generations connect the drum and its history with the essence of existence.

In the final section, Shawnee, a young girl living in a remote area of the reservation, has been babysitting for her younger brother and sister for several bitterly cold days, without enough fuel and no food. Their mother has been sidetracked, drinking in town. The depiction of the lives of these children is heart-rending, and their connection to the "Little Girl" drum adds another layer of mystery to the drum's "life."

Written with a homey intimacy and honesty, Erdrich deals with big themes of life and death and the beliefs associated with them. Nature is an intimate part of this process, and it is further emphasized through symbols and repeating motifs--a field of orb spiders, a dog which escapes its cruel confines, wolves and their mystical connection with mankind.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the type of book I miss...very rare: a true "story". A story of love, of misery, of hope. This is a story - not a formula. There is nothing shocking, fast-paced or hilarious. Just a story of a string of humans all touched by the same drum. This is what story-telling should be.

I will remember this tale a long time. It won't run together with a bunch of other novels that are so similar I can't keep the characters or the story-lines straight.

This is a story best read on a rainy Sunday afternoon when the focus of your universe is this tale. And when you read the last line and close the book, the story will come back to you during the following weeks and it will surprise you with new insights.

This is my first Erdrich, but it won't be my last.
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