“Makoons” is the last book written, thus far, in “The Birchbark House” series.
It’s a deceptively simple story, which you think is just about the details of ordinary life, but then you realize how many deaths have taken place in the course of the story. Nokomis. Angeline and Fishtail. Two Strike’s pet lamb and her dogs. And the buffalo!
The comic relief, Gichi Noodin, is comical, until the tribe expels him (unexpected in a YA novel!) His story turns from comedy to something sadder, and into something about the death of ego.
There’s a lovely story in this book, based on native folklore, of a man marrying into a bear family.
Nokomis’ death actually made me cry a little.
It’s not a perfect book, because it really has no plot, so you could say it lacks unity. But the theme of loss does much to unify it.
And so many orphans. The buffalo calf. The lamb. Opichi.
Two Strike is a bold portrait of a non-traditional woman. Old Tallow was non-traditional too but as an old woman she can be alone and it looks perfectly normal. It’s different with Two Strike because she’s young and you see she wants no part of traditional women’s roles. She is not even interested in being a mother, though she has borne a child. The word ‘mother’ just doesn’t fit, as the narrator says.
How did Quill lose his Metis wife, Margaret, so quickly? She left him, but it hasn’t been more than a few months since the events of “Chickadee”.
The hunting of buffalo and the butchering of the animals is described in some detail.
The buffalo provided the fuel for fires that smoked their own meat. They gave their brains, fat and liver to be used in tanning their own hides. They provided tools with their bones that could be sharpened and used to flesh their carcasses. All winter, they had kept their killers warm and snug under curly robes. Indeed, as Little Shell had said in his prayer, the buffalo were a most generous animal.
Compare to Moby-Dick:
In a word, after being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames. Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body.
As I said, I didn’t know how much this book moved me until it was near the end and I realized there was more here than had first met the eye.
I’m very much looking forward to further stories in this series.