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The Road Back to Sweetgrass

A Novel

2016
Author:

Linda LeGarde Grover

The Road Back to Sweetgrass

BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE


A powerful debut novel of love, hardship, and family bonds on an American Indian reservation—from the author of the award-winning short story collection The Dance Boots 

Set in northern Minnesota, this novel follows a trio of American Indian women, from the 1970s to the present, observing their lives intersect on the fictional Mozhay Point reservation. Linda LeGarde Grover connects the sense of place with the experience of Native women who came of age during the days of the federal termination policy and the struggle for tribal self-determination. 

"The Road Back to Sweetgrass is most notable for its writing and its closely observed and beautifully expressed perspective on contemporary American Indian life. This is a novel not to be missed." —Indian Country Today

Set in northern Minnesota, The Road Back to Sweetgrass follows Dale Ann, Theresa, and Margie, a trio of American Indian women, from the 1970s to the present, observing their coming of age and the intersection of their lives as they navigate love, economic hardship, loss, and changing family dynamics on the fictional Mozhay Point reservation. As young women, all three leave their homes. Margie and Theresa go to Duluth for college and work; there Theresa gets to know a handsome Indian boy, Michael Washington, who invites her home to the Sweetgrass land allotment to meet his father, Zho Wash, who lives in the original allotment cabin. When Margie accompanies her, complicated relationships are set into motion, and tensions over “real Indianness” emerge.

Dale Ann, Margie, and Theresa find themselves pulled back again and again to the Sweetgrass allotment, a silent but ever-present entity in the book; sweetgrass itself is a plant in the Ojibwe ceremonial odissimaa bag, which also contains a newborn baby’s umbilical cord. In a powerful final chapter, Zho Wash tells the story of the first days of the allotment, when the Wazhushkag, or Muskrat, family became transformed into the Washingtons by the pen of a federal Indian agent. This sense of place and home is both tangible and spiritual, and Linda LeGarde Grover skillfully connects it with the experience of Native women who came of age during the days of the federal termination policy and the struggle for tribal self-determination.

The Road Back to Sweetgrass is a novel that moves between past and present, the Native and the non-Native, history and myth, and tradition and survival, as the people of Mozhay Point endure traumatic historical events and federal Indian policies while looking ahead to future generations and the continuation of the Anishinaabe people.

Awards

Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers award for Fiction

The Road Back to Sweetgrass

Linda LeGarde Grover is a member of the Bois Forte band of Ojibwe and associate professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She has received the Native Writers Circle of the Americas First Book Award, the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, whose previous recipients include Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, and Toni Morrison.

The Road Back to Sweetgrass

With the grace of a dancer lifted by spirit and grounded in the well-worn earth beneath her feet, Linda LeGarde Grover tells a circular tale of life on and off the Reservation. Generous, ironic, and often gut-wrenching, The Road Back to Sweetgrass is at its large heart a book about the power of home and the inexorable connections between land, people, and stories.

Danielle Sosin, author of The Long-Shining Waters

History, humanity and humor—these things always impress me when I read Linda LeGarde Grover’s fiction. In this deeply moving and healing book, we are drawn into a communally told story that shows generations violently separated yet held together by the cord of place and culture and by many, many acts of love.

Heid E. Erdrich, author of Original Local

Through the character of Margie Robineau, Linda LeGarde Grover has created an Ojibwe everywoman who not only births a daughter Crystal, but also revitalizes the small township of Sweetgrass by making family with her would be father-in-law. Grover’s novel tackles genealogy and kinship, Indian allotment and traditions, and ultimately love. A gorgeous read, an extraordinary novel!

LeAnne Howe, author of Shell Shaker

The overall theme of longing and belonging affects us all, and in this story Linda brings us into the grand circle.

Lake Superior Magazine

The events that define these characters and their world, the births and deaths and binding loves, unfold with gentle pathos and wry humor, the cadences of minute detail and the sweep of history a matter of quiet confidence and unshowy grace for this gifted storyteller.

Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune

If one element stands out, it is the gentle tone of the book that pervades even the darkest passages.

Duluth Budgeteer News

At heart this is the story of the women’s longing for home, with traditions of pow-wows, fancy dancing and wild ricing, and of coming of age when the Anishinaabe struggled to preserve their culture in a changing world.

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Road Back to Sweetgrass is most notable for its writing and its closely observed and beautifully expressed perspective on contemporary American Indian life. This is a novel not to be missed.

Indian Country Today

Sly and humor-filled, ironic and poignant.

Cloquet River Press

Engaging and character-driven.

MinnPost

Grover’s truth-telling mourns, heals, haunts and also celebrates survival.

Winona Daily News

Beautiful awareness of the hearts of three American Indian women, their culture, and their environment. Accurately portrays contemporary American Indian life right up to the present, punctuated by sadness and hopefulness throughout.

CBS Minnesota

The Road Back to Sweetgrass

Contents

The Odissimaa Bag
Bezhig: The Frybread Makers
The Power of Frybread
In Her Dream, Margie
The Art of Dressing a Rabbit

Niizh: Termination Days
Shades of Through the Looking Glass
The Veil in the Jar

Nisswi: The Wild Ricers
Margie-enjiss
Animoosh
The Ar-Bee-See

Niiwin: Migwechiwendam
Enchanted Ah-gwaching
The Occasional Scent of Sweetgrass

The Road Back to Sweetgrass

Book Discussion Guide

 

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UMP blog: On time-honored oral tradition and contemporary fictional storytelling.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, The Road Back to Sweetgrass began during a visit to an elderly Ojibwe man’s house some years ago. Invited by the old man’s son, a friend and I arrived with a gift for the elder—a box of tea bags.