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Expectations are always high with the arrival of a new novel by Louise Erdrich, 67, and for good reason: She’s the beloved author of the stunning National Book Award winner The Round House and last year's Pulitzer Prize winner The Night Watchman, among more than 20 other books. Many of them open a window into Native American lives — something that Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, can do like few other writers of her literary stature.
Her latest novel, The Sentence, comes out on Nov. 9. It's a topical story with a bit more humor than her other books. Set in Minneapolis from All Souls’ Day 2019 to All Souls’ Day 2020, it features Tookie, a Native American woman with a troubled past who works at a bookstore that showcases mainly Indigenous American authors. Tookie’s unmoored by the frequent and seriously creepy appearance of the ghost of Flora — a white woman and former customer who had desperately wanted to be Indigenous. Tookie struggles to understand what in the world Flora wants from her while contending with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and her city in an uproar over George Floyd’s murder.
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The story is not only unusually funny for an Erdrich novel but also seems more personal than some of her other works. Erdrich, after all, owns an independent bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books, focused on indigenous authors and crafts. But, she tells us, she’s haunted by things other than ghosts.
The author spoke with AARP about how her childhood and her heritage influence her work and about the impact of racism on today's society.