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Summary and book reviews of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence

by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich X
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
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  • Published:
    Nov 2021, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

In this stunning and timely novel, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author Louise Erdrich creates a wickedly funny ghost story, a tale of passion, of a complex marriage, and of a woman's relentless errors.

Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls' Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading "with murderous attention," must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day 2019 and ends on All Souls' Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

Earth to Earth

While in prison, I received a dictionary. It was sent to me with a note. This is the book I would take to a deserted island. Other books were to arrive from my teacher. But as she had known, this one proved of endless use. The first word I looked up was the word 'sentence.' I had received an impossible sentence of sixty years from the lips of a judge who believed in an after- life. So the word with its yawning c, belligerent little e's, with its hissing sibilants and double n's, this repetitive bummer of a word made of slyly stabbing letters that surrounded an isolate human t, this word was in my thoughts every moment of every day. Without a doubt, had the dictionary not arrived, this light word that lay so heavily upon me would have crushed me, or what was left of me after the strangeness of what I'd done.


I was at a perilous age when I committed my crime. Although in my thirties, I still clung to a teenager's physical pursuits and mental habits. It was 2005, but 1999...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It is Tookie's too-muchness — her omnivorous appetites, her talent for storytelling and selling and embellishing — that makes her vulnerable and also ultimately saves her. Similarly, this brilliant novel thrives as a mish-mash of ghost story, mystery, comedy, picaresque, social commentary and book-lover's book, all of which is exactly enough. Through plumbing all these elements, Erdrich steers her complicated character towards a fitting conclusion, one that gives her a place in the vast world she loves without taking anything from her, one that allows her to make peace with herself and her ghost...continued

Full Review Members Only (737 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Pulitzer winner Erdrich returns with a scintillating story about a motley group of Native American booksellers haunted by the spirit of a customer...More than a gripping ghost story, this offers profound insights into the effects of the global pandemic and the collateral damage of systemic racism. It adds up to one of Erdrich's most sprawling and illuminating works to date.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The novel's humor is mordant...The characters...wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich's love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism. A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America's violent, dark habits.

Booklist (starred review)
The many-hued, finely patterned weave of Erdrich's funny, evocative, painful, and redemptive ghost story includes strands of autobiography…Erdrich's insights into what her city Minneapolis experienced in 2020 are piercing; all her characters are enthralling, and her dramatization of why books are essential to our well-being is resounding.

Reader Reviews

Linda L

Erdrich at her best! So many themes and plot points!
The Sentence is another masterpiece by Louise Erdrich. There are so many plot points and themes that I am not sure I detected all of them. The title, The Sentence, has significance on so many levels: not only does it refer to the 60-year sentence ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Birchbark Books

Interior of Birchbark Books featuring shelves of books and canoe on ceilingTookie, the protagonist of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, works in a Minneapolis bookstore called Birchbark Books, which is owned by Erdrich herself both in reality and this work of fiction. As is shown in the novel, where the author appears as a minor character, the store serves the local community and carries a wide selection of merchandise. Erdrich opened Birchbark in Minneapolis in 2001, as a way of sharing her interest in books with her daughters. The store is located on West 21st Street in the city's Kenwood neighborhood.

Birchbark's website calls the establishment "that increasingly rare thing—a tiny independent bookstore" as well as "a neighborhood bookstore, and also an international presence." The store is not part of a ...

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