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Review: 'Gichigami Hearts,' by Linda LeGarde Grover

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"Gichigami Hearts," by Linda LeGarde Grover.

"Gichigami Hearts," by Linda LeGarde Grover. (University of Minnesota Press/TNS)

NONFICTION: Grover's new memoir is a blend of Ojibwe stories, myth and family history.

"Gichigami Hearts" by Linda LeGarde Grover; University of Minnesota Press (145 pages, $14.95)


"Can you see there's a house down there, about a block on the other side of the bridge?" Linda LeGarde Grover's Aunt Carol asks, as the two sit at a campfire at a powwow in Duluth. "Did you know that house was your great-great-grandmother's house? You didn't? Well, she was a LaVierge, and she was born at Fond du Lac, the old Fond du Lac, not where the reservation is now where the people got moved, and her mother and dad came there from LaPointe, that big village on Madeline Island, in Wisconsin."

Linda, she says, ought to know some of these things.

Well, now she does. And now, thanks to "Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories From Misaabekong," so do we. Gichigami is, of course, Lake Superior, and Misaabekong is an Ojibwe name for the Duluth, Minnesota area, referring to the massive outcropping of gabbro, also called the Point of Rocks, that divides the city.

"Our Ojibwe and, in a broader sense, Anishinaabe history is a layering of our stories over that land and landscape," Grover tells us, and her own layering of family history, creation stories and tribal lore makes this book a complex map of a place and its people in intimate, worldly and otherworldly terms.

Thus, we have how, "one of the times the rock was being blasted, near where the Bethel Society building is today, between Superior and First Streets, a large crack opened and an Anishinaabe man dressed in old-style clothes stepped out … and walked away." And we have the more conventional arrival of the Anishinaabeg, who came from the Newfoundland area during the time of the Great Migration to join "the settlement next to the American Fur Post in Fond du Lac, which today is the furthest western neighborhood in Duluth." Among them were Linda LaGarde Grover's Ojibwe ancestors.

We have the story of Nokomis, daughter of the moon, whose own daughter, impregnated by the North Wind, gives birth to a tiny white rabbit (Nanaboozhoo) and a little wolf (Ma'ingan). And "as the traditional wintertime story of Nanaboozhoo and Ma'ingan is true, so is this fictional story of Louis and Mickey," who happen to be characters out of Grover's earlier novels and collection of stories.

Only now, though, does the tubercular Mickey bear "the spirit of rabbit and wolf," seen here at the mercy of those mischievous mishibizhiig, the lake spirits.

The treaty and boarding school dislocations of her grandparents; the entrepreneurial spirit of their Indian Stands, commercializing their own authenticity; the quiet desperation of elders, seeking a meal and a bed at the missions: these are Grover's story, but so are her widowed Norwegian grandfather and his young Italian bride, Carmella; her Uncle Bob, with his memories of living "like old-time Indians"; Dibiki Giizis, the moon, and her children.

Everything is a gift from the Creator, Grover tells us, in "a very simple manifesto of Ojibwe philosophy," and as such must be taken care of and used resourcefully. In her artful weaving of family, history, myth and magic in "Gichigami Hearts," she does just that.


Ellen Akins is a writer in Wisconsin.


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