The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year

ISBN: 0060927011
ISBN 13: 9780060927011
By: Louise Erdrich

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About this book

In The Blue Jay's Dance,Louise Erdrich's first major work of nonfiction, she brilliantly and poignantly examines the joys and frustrations, the compromises and the insights, the difficult struggles and profound emotional satisfactions she experienced in the course of one twelve month period--from a winter pregnancy through a spring and summer of new motherhood to fall a return to writing. In exquisitely lyrical prose, Erdrich illuminates afresh the large and small events that mothers--parents--everywhere will recognize and appreciate.

Reader's Thoughts


On a family trip up to New Hampshire I began reading Erdrich's story of home and life in the White Mountains. Glancing out around the yard and looking at the great snow covered hills surrounding me I understood her description of feeling at a loss or feeling homesick for the horizon in front of you. Vast space is not something often experienced here, unless you have climbed to the top of one of those mountains. She has some beautiful moments in describing her life as a young mother while also having adopted older children. Her focus on the dilemma of connecting with your child when they are very young, but also remaining yourself and learning to separate so that you can both grow and remain whole feels so utterly truthful and adds complexity to the relationship of mother and child. How do you remain your own human when for so long you are not? She discusses how woman are lost by their children and by their homes stating, "How many woman are buried beneath their houses?"How many woman are simplified to be only the reflection of their childhood, and how many separate from their children healthfully and return to their own. At one point she lists fro two pages female authors their marital status and their children, lack thereof or abundance of, contemplating the likelihood of her survival as can author and first time birth mother. In addition to this book being about the relationship of mother and child she also delves into the life cycles of the world surrounding her. The book is divided into seasonal chapters, discussing the living world around her and how that helps her pass her time, but widen her own understanding of mothers and daughters life and death, time wasted and time gained. "Plants are very trusting," she writes as she remembers working in the garden and her young daughter makes this observation while they are planting. Although some of her observations are beautiful, some of the metaphors are hard to follow, and I would get lost with her connections and continual prose. Maybe it would do for a reread later in my life if I ever have children to add more of my own experience to her writing and be able to understand more of the connections she makes with her life and her children.


Louise Erdrich chronicles the first year of her baby's life in rural New Hampshire. The baby's birth and development and her own spiritual and emotional growth are rooted in the cycles of nature. The family live surrounded by teeming wildlife, flora and fauna - all described so evocatively. Seasons pass inexorably and events are recorded in a series of self-standing pieces (some of which have been published in magazines), capturing the essence of motherhood and interweaving wise observations on life and death. A quite different and extraordinary book.


This is a beautiful and lyrical non-fiction book that describes the author's life in rural New Hampshire after the birth of one of her children. The problem is that the book is not about anything. It has no plot, no characters, and no development. Mostly it describes nature and animals, with occasional tangents for recipes. There were a few nice moments but it was way too rambling for me. When I look past the content problems I did sense some writing talent so I am curious to see if her fiction is better.

Chanel Earl

There were sentences and even whole paragraphs in this book that I loved, but I didn't love the whole book: 1. I never felt grounded. Was I reading about motherhood, writing, nature? I didn't know what kind of book I was reading. In the end I decided it was a book about whatever Louise Erdrich wanted to write about that day and I felt she was a little indulgent at my expense.2. Too many adjectives and adverbs. It slowed me down and made the book less fun.That said, I wish I would have written this sentence: "When every inch of the world is known, sleep may be the only wilderness we have left." I love it.


This is a beautiful, meditative book on being a mother and a writer, pregnancy and the baby's first year of development, the way we experience growth and change - thrilling gains and losses. Not much happens, and yet everything happens (WINTER, SPRING, SUMMER, FALL) inside and outside the writer's window in the woods... caring for newborn, not-taming a feral cat, watching a hawk confused by the blue jay's desperation dance, walking through a fortress fence into a game preserve and encountering a boar family, a sort of annunciation by luna moth. The writer's voice is naturalist, rebellious, domestic all at once. She invokes several generations of family (and the loss of grandparents), pieces together and imagines the history of her house in New Hampshire, and captures the richness of fleeting moments. Her husband is active in the background - mostly it's her, the baby, and a mothering-writing routine with struggles and joys. Several evocative recipes are included. She doesn't shy away from ambivalence.


Reading this book is like peeking into the soul of every mother who ever lived, though every mother's life is different, of course. In a kind-of almost-poetic, dreamlike prose, it describes moments of the purest oneness, the most intense warmth, but also deep wells of darkness. The author springs those fleeting moments on us the way they occur in real life, randomly, unannounced, like little revelations, amid what is our everyday life. And if not everyday life, then whatever it is we do, as mothers, in our attempt to fight off complete self-erasure. In her case, it's planning gardens in winter and animal-watching during spring and summer, descriptions of which turn into allegories for the creation and celebration of the cycle of life, of birth and death, taking and letting go. Her new baby is not mentioned in every chapter, and less increasingly as the chapters progress. Sometimes, it's uncomfortably absent. It doesn't have a name, it's just "the baby", and her other children and husband are mere sketches, mentioned only 3 or 4 times or so. As such, the book doesn't read like a journal of a mother doting on her daughter and her every milestone and recounting family life, but as that of a woman, mother, who must wean, who must let go, who must break apart from the togetherness, who must be destroyed and built up again, who must, in the end, find herself again, quietly, crossing the bridge back into solitude. It is this dependence-independence dance that is at the heart of this memoir, and, I find, at the heart of every baby-mother relationship.There are many passages I find myself re-reading for their beauty. And yet, I feel that something is missing, that she is hiding something from me. Her family life, certainly, the names of her children. And maybe she is hiding it on purpose, that elusive thing about motherhood, the sanctity that we cannot explain, that we cannot name, not even a writer as accomplished as Louise Erdrich. I like that she doesn't try, at least directly, that she keeps it anonymous, but makes it present, nonetheless. The book is meaningful and melancholy, enriched with beautiful little moments here and there, if not exactly the way I have experienced early motherhood myself, then very much like it.


I read this when I was a new mom. I love Louis Erdrich's books. She takes an interesting perspective in this book, blending the experiences of giving birth to her children. I remember her meditation on trying to retrieve a cat from a whole in her basement wall being a little too long, but for the most part I loved this book. Especially, the way she juggles being a writer and a new mom.


I think kids, baby's, and birth are kind of icky so a lot of the parts in this novel I skipped over because I just didn't care. She is a great writer though and I really liked the way this was written. In some parts though I wanted to tell her to get a life and move on. I also disliked that she basically said that you weren't a woman until you had a child.


In her first work of nonfiction, Louise Erdrich examines the joys and frustrations in the course of twelve months, from a winter pregnancy through a spring and summer of new motherhood, to a fall return to writing. She does this brilliantly. I was totally caught up from the first page. Not simply a book for mothers, it is a book for anyone who has been the primary caregiver, or anyone who plans to be a mother.Read this excerpt:There is a dance that appears out of nowhere, steps we don't know we know until using them to calm our baby. This dance is something we learned in our sleep, from our own hearts, from our parents, going back and back through all of our ancestors. Men and women do the same dance, and acquire it without thought. Graceful, eccentric, this wavelike sway is a skilled graciousness of the entire body. Parents possess and lose it after the first fleeting months, but that's all right because already it has been passed on- the knowledge lodged deep within the comforted baby.


I did not think it was possible that I could be disappointed by Ms. Erdrich, but I was with this one.


"Growing, bearing, mothering or fathering, supporting and at last letting go of an infant is a powerful and mundane creative act that rapturously sucks up whole chunks of life.""Time with children runs through our fingers like water as we lift our hands, try to hold, to capture, to fix moments in a lens, a magic circle of images or words. We snap photos, videotape, memorialize while we experience a fast-forward in which there is no replay of even a single instant.""Rocking, breathing, groaning, mouthing circles of distress, laughing, whistling, pounding, wavering, digging, pulling, pushing- labor is the most involuntary work we do.""I find women's labor extremely difficult to describe. In the first place, there are all sorts of labor and no "correct" way to do it. I bow to the power and grandeur of those who insist on natural childbirth, but I find the pieties that often attend the process irritating. I am all for pain relief or caesareans when women want and need these procedures. Enduring pain in itself doesn't make one a better person, though if your mind is prepared, pain of this sort- a meaningful and determined pain based on ardor and potential joy- can be deeply instructive, can change your life."

Jon Manchester

My favorite part of Louise's memoir is a section entitled "Horizon Sickness" which describes how this North Dakota girl had trouble living in New England and not being able to see the horizon. I've had the opposite experience, having grown up in Vermont and now living in the flatlands of the upper midwest. Louise says: "I am suspicious of Eastern land: the undramatic loveliness, the small scale, the lack of sky to watch, the way the weather sneaks up without enough warning." This whole section is brilliant and the book is peppered with similar gems, particularly concerning the natural environment and animals. At points I felt like Louise's writing was scary good and I look forward to reading some of her fiction.


This book approaches the best book on mothering I have ever read. Precisely because it is poetic and doesn't collapse a large world into a small, explainable thing. It wanders and waits and watches and takes it time. She's not interested in theories or milestones as much as those slippery, inexplicable moments of grace and agony. I felt wrapped up in her experience and fundamentally understood--feminine, in a way that I didn't understand before I had children. I have wanted to express my experience with motherhood--with pregnancy and nursing and child-rearing, in ways that don't degrade it. But somehow the words are never right and other people's even less so. It's a hard thing to articulate--the endlessly rewarding but ceaselessly discouraging world of being a parent. But Erdrich, true to form, has simply shared a year's worth of mothering in a style that suits the experience--lush, roundabout, thoughtful--all in the small snippets of sentences and mind that are leftover luxuries for a mother. I felt part of a community reading this book--felt a deep pride in my inconsequential everyday doings. I am watching my baby sleep and feeling glad that Erdrich respected the unutterable while at the same time conjuring and celebrating it.


One of the loveliest memoirs I've read. I first read this 17 years ago, when my youngest daughter was an infant. More recently, I've given it as a gift to several nieces in their last trimester of pregnancy, and they've all loved it, too.A beautiful book.


I found this to be a very relaxing read. The book is a memoir covering a specific year in the author's life during which she was pregnant with her third child, gave birth, and returned to writing. The prose is lyrical and she includes reflections on pregnancy and motherhood as well as vivid descriptions of her encounters with wild life and her walks through the forest. At times she shares mystical experiences.

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