Gichi Manidoo by Charles Musser is the story of Federico Garcia, a forty-year old Afghanistan vet who is still dealing with PTSD, and Marie, a thirty-something woman who is trapped in her own cage of self-doubt, self-worth, and identity. The two meet in the house that Federico is trying to sell, and after exchanges are made, dancing begins. The two hit it off, and they enjoy each other’s company; the only downside is that Marie is a married woman, and they both have their own share of baggage they bring with them wherever they go. One morning, Marie is nowhere to be found. After several days, Federico finds out from a mysterious woman named Elizabeth that Marie has had an accident and is in the hospital fighting for her life. With an “overly protective” husband, the chances of Federico visiting her are slim. Instead, he is given the option of listening to a story from Elizabeth that he is told will help save Marie, if he believes it.
The story is of a girl named Elizabeth and her new-found meerkat friend, Zaagitoon, who both wake in a mysterious place; they must work together to help Elizabeth retrieve her memory, and help Zaagitoon save his sweetheart, Bellflower, in a world that neither are familiar with. The two must brave ravenous vultures, slippery passageways over swift water that will erase one’s memory, and discover the power they hold inside themselves amidst all the confusion and hurt they feel.
Musser weaves a tale that is similar in style to “Alice in Wonderland,” in that some of the ideas are far-fetched, (talking animals, strange world with flying black disks that are consuming the world), but these ideas all represent something larger that is happening elsewhere (alternate universe?). The story of Elizabeth, within the overall story of Marie, seems child-like with the talking animals, but also very mature with the concepts of death, abuse, and violence being portrayed. There are also themes of Indian heritage mentioned, which is interesting in and of itself to learn about.
The term “Gichi Manidoo” is an Ojibwe term meaning “great spirit,” and the idea of the characters being warriors is prevalent throughout the story. The term “marwolaeth,” meaning “death,” is also mentioned with characters seeking the “death” they need to rise again victorious.
This story was mostly a light read for me, but very enjoyable. I found myself rooting for certain characters over others and feeling liberated when certain ones found the relief they were needing all along, and finally finding the strength to achieve it.
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