1 review

The Painted Drum: A Novel
by Louise Erdrich

Published: 2005-09-01
Hardcover : 288 pages
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When a woman named Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. After all, the family descends from an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota ...

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When a woman named Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. After all, the family descends from an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that is home to her mother's family. However, she stops dead in her tracks when she finds in the collection a rare drum -- a powerful yet delicate object, made from a massive moose skin stretched across a hollow of cedar, ornamented with symbols she doesn't recognize and dressed in red tassels and a beaded belt and skirt -- especially since, without touching the instrument, she hears it sound.

From Faye's discovery, we trace the drum's passage both backward and forward in time, from the reservation on the northern plains to New Hampshire and back. Through the voice of Bernard Shaawano, an Ojibwe, we hear how his grandfather fashioned the drum after years of mourning his young daughter's death, and how it changes the lives of those whose paths its crosses. And through Faye we hear of her anguished relationship with a local sculptor, who himself mourns the loss of a daughter, and of the life she has made alone with her mother, in the shadow of the death of Faye's sister.

Through these compelling voices, The Painted Drum explores the strange power that lost children exert on the memories of those they leave behind, and as the novel unfolds, its elegantly crafted narrative comes to embody the intricate, transformative rhythms of human grief. One finds throughout the grace and wit, the captivating prose and surprising beauty, that characterize Louise Erdrich's finest work.

Editorial Review

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From The Publisher

Chapter One

Revival Road

Faye Travers

Leaving the child cemetery with its plain hand-lettered sign and stones carved into the weathered shapes of lambs and angels, 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. These days I consider and reconsider the slightest of choices, as if one might bring me happiness and the other despair. There is no right way. No true path. The more familiar the road, the easier I'm lost. Left and the highway snakes north, to our famous college town; but I turn right and am bound toward the poor and historical New England village of Stiles and Stokes with its great tender maples, its old radiating roads, a stern white belfry and utilitarian gas pump/grocery. Soon after the highway divides off. Uphill and left, a broad and well-kept piece of paving leads, as the trunk of a tree splits and diminishes, to ever narrower outgrowths of Revival Road. This is where we live, my mother and I, just where the road begins to tangle. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. How would you characterize the relationship between Faye Travers and Kurt Krahe, and how does it change over the course of the novel?

2. How does The Painted Drum affect Faye Travers, Bernard Shaawano, Simon Jack, and Shawnee individually, and to what extent can the drum's mystical qualities be explained by its unusual origins?

3. How significant is the wolf attack on Anaquot's older daughter in the larger context of The Painted Drum, and why might the author have chosen to relate this event in the "story within a story" format?

4. To what extent do you agree with Faye and Elsie Travers that the theft of the drum from the Jewett Parker Tatro estate and the return of it to the Ojibwe people was an ethical decision?

5. How does the author use the theme of grief relating to the deaths of young children to connect different characters in The Painted Drum?

6. To what extent do the creatures that populate The Painted Drum—wolves, ravens, coyotes, a chained dog, an errant bear—seem to represent or symbolize something other than their animal selves?

7. Why do Anaquot and Ziigwan'aage agree to befriend one another and conspire against Simon Jack?

8. Of all of the characters in The Painted Drum, which did you find most memorable, and why?

9. How does the accidental fire at Ira's house awaken the drum, and what accounts for Shawnee's ability to hear it?

10. To what extent does Faye's discovery of missing dog's skeleton in the final scene of the book bring the narrative of the novel full-circle?

Suggested by Members

Discuss the themes of this book? Specifically, discuss how grief is treated in the book.
by eschwerm (see profile) 01/05/17

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "An excellent book for discussion"by Elizabeth S. (see profile) 01/05/17

I was very neutral about this book until our book club discussion. I learned a lot about this specific native American culture. Lots of symbolism. Talked about themes: love, loss, grief, traditions. Probably... (read more)

  "Interesting subject written in a very confusing format."by suzanne m. (see profile) 04/24/09

This book seemed like no one had edited it. It was written in the first person but it was difficult to know who was speaking and how they fit in the story.

I would not reccomend this book.

  "Very disjointed."by Patty M. (see profile) 04/24/09

We were very disappointed in the writing style of this author. The writing was very disjointed. The story didn't flow at all. Characters were introduced, but not developed.

  "History of Painted Drum and lives of an appraiser and her mother"by Karen M. (see profile) 04/23/09

Didn't like this book much but it did lead to a fun discussion.
The book is divided into sections and the sections about the history of the drum were very interesting but the rest was ver
... (read more)

  "I apologized to my book club for choosing this book."by Wendy B. (see profile) 04/23/09

From the reviews and the description on the back cover of this book, I thought it looked quite interesting. Instead, I found it to be confusing, and Erdrich's style of writing extremely poo... (read more)

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