The Game of Silence
When Louise Erdrich's THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE was published in 1999, it was widely hailed as an alternative to the beloved "Little House" series, exploring roughly the same time period and same geographical area as that covered by Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels. Much like the "Little House" books, THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE documented the traditions, celebrations, joys, and sorrows of an ordinary family. In Erdrich's novel, though, this family is part of an Ojibwe community rather than a group of white pioneers.
Readers who came to know Omakayas, the heroine of THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE, have been waiting a long time to find out what happens next to this vibrant, likeable character and her family. The good news is that the sequel, THE GAME OF SILENCE, is finally here, and it was definitely worth waiting for.
THE GAME OF SILENCE opens with a dramatic scene that sets the theme of much of the rest of the novel. Omakayas's small community is shocked by the arrival of strangers, other native peoples who have been displaced by chimookomanag, or white people. Frightened, half-starved and angry, the survivors become part of Omakayas's life, and their harrowing stories instill fear and anxiety into everyone's hearts. Could they be the next to lose their homes? Erdrich writes, "They would all fear to lose something huge, something so important that they never even knew that they had it in the first place. Who questions the earth, the ground beneath your feet? They had always accepted it --- always here, always solid. That something was home."
Omakayas worries about her home, too. She loves her family and the land where they live. She thinks, "If they ever had to leave, …her heart might fall right out of her body to lie forever on the ground it loved." As the year wears on, though, Omakayas is troubled more and more by dreams, almost visions, that seem to ask her to do something she's not yet ready for. Can she ignore what seems to be her gift? Before the end of the novel, she must face her fears in order to lead her family on to the next chapter of their lives. Omakayas is still the sensitive, lively, sometimes impulsive girl of THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE, but in this novel she grows up quickly.
Although there are some big themes explored in THE GAME OF SILENCE, Erdrich still enriches her novel with the small details of everyday life that also made THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE so compelling. Over the course of a year, the patterns of Omakayas's life play out --- harvesting rice, smoking fish, telling stories, sledding on the snow, preparing for a wedding. These ordinary tasks are described in loving detail, enabling readers to gain a fuller picture of a time, a place, and a way of life. In addition, Erdrich offers a comprehensive glossary of Ojibwe terms and dozens of lovely pencil illustrations of the characters and their natural surroundings.
What emerges is a portrait of a family --- and a culture --- on the brink of change. Let's hope we don't have to wait as long again to discover what that change will mean for Omakayas and her people.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 26, 2005
The Game of Silence
- Publication Date: April 26, 2005
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0060297891
- ISBN-13: 9780060297893