This is the story of a family, and of secrets. That the family is modern day Ojibwe is interesting and certainly adds color and information about the treatment of Native Americans, about the Native American boarding school system, about racism, but it is not exactly central to the story.
Ravenna is an Ojibwe living on the Kalamazoo River. When she was a child, government authorities came t the extremely poor homestead to take any children into custody to put into Indian boarding schools. The siblings were deep in the far fields and were not seen by the authorities, but Ravenna, being still very young, was at the cabin, and taken against the parents wishes. When she was released at age 12 to find her own way in the world, she returned to her home to find it deserted and overgrown. She began to put things together, all survival living she had learned from her parents.
She is taken in by … oh phooey… I forget…. a grandmother maybe?… no, possibly a neighbor who has Greek relatives. The young son of one of these Greeks comes out to help in the summers and he and Ravenna become very attracted to each other. The uncle of this boy does a great deal to financially support the woman and Rovenna. But Rovenna gets pregnant, and at the instant the baby is born, the child is taken from her to be put up for adoption.
Fast forward to modern day and we meet Esme, the daughter of the baby put up for adoption. Her mother has just died of cancer, but weeks before dying, receives a phone call from a woman who says she is her sister, one of six other siblings and now that the grandparents have died, they are at liberty to discuss this matter. The woman dies happy, now knowing for sure she was adopted. The daughter decides to go out to where these people all live and meet her blood relatives.
While there, she discovers that her grandmother, Ravenna, still lives in primitive conditions in a remote area on the river, and is a well-known basket maker. Her grandfather is a well-known artist and lives in town. The two although have all those children together, have never lived together because he doesn’t want to live in such primitive conditions, and Ravenna, still known as the Indian woman, doesn’t want to be in town.
There are the various side stories of each of the grown children, aunts and uncles to Esme, and some mysterious events concerning that wealthy uncle who now lives in Chicago (or is it Detroit?) in luxury.
It is a back and forth kind of tale, lots going on, and like I said above, full of a lot of information about the Native Americans at the time. There is an entire backstory of the mother and father of Ravenna, the story of the young man with the boat who squires Esme around, and his no-go romance with the girl who is the receptionist at the hotel where Esme is staying. So many stories. I loved it. Great stuff.