The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson opens up shortly after Rosalie Iron Wing Meister has lost her husband, a white farmer in Minnesota. It's a bitingly cold winter's day, and she has traveled back to her childhood cabin after decades away. It is revealed that she was taken from her home and placed into foster care after her own father's death, told that she had no one left to claim her. 

Rosalie's story is told non-linearly, jumping back and forth between the present day of 2002, her impending high school graduation and foster care emancipation, and her slowly unfolding adult years. Although told primarily from Rosalie's first-person perspective, there are also chapters that dip into the first person perspectives of other characters, some during the same time as Rosalie resides and others from generations long past. 

The thing I most loved right off the bat when picking up this book was the poetic language. The story literally opens with a hauntingly beautiful poem "The Seeds Speak," told from the perspective of hibernating seeds. Below is an excerpt from the poem I found particularly moving, the underlined portions reflecting my own annotated book:

We are restless, chafing against this thin membrane, pushing back against the dark that bids us to lie still, suspended in a near-death that is not dying. We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to infinity that reaches to the stars

Every instance in which Wilson writes about the land, the plants, the animals that reside within Rosalie's life, I felt this deep reverence and beauty. It gave me similar feelings to when I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, oftentimes evoking tears. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed the common threads that wove through the various POVs throughout the story. I don't want to give anything away for those who may wish to read this novel, but suffice it to say, the thread were incredibly powerful. 

There was an incredibly nuanced view throughout the book, from the various Native American characters as well as the white characters, with regards to how people are treating the environment that I found particularly refreshing. Oftentimes in the media it seems as if people are painted as either good or evil, on the side of justice or destruction when it comes to how we treat our planet. But throughout these pages, there was a subtle understanding from the author that everyone is doing their best. And everyone has different ways of advocating. This dynamic is contrasted most heavily between Gaby Makespeace and Rosalie in their efforts to reclaim native land and even between Rosalie and her husband, John, as they navigate their farm on the eve of a GMO corporation coming in to sell them "new and improved" seed stock. 

"Fire is a purifying force in the world. It cleans forests of deadwood, sterilizes as it scorches, and consumes us all if we let it. Some seeds need fire to sprout. What if you're that seed?"

Now, on to the few things I wasn't a big fan of in this book. 

I think this might just be a me thing, so take my criticism with a grain of salt, but I am just not that big a fan of multiple POVs. I am definitely a reader who enjoys getting into the head and life of one character in particular and seeing them through from beginning to end. At first, I enjoyed the writing of this story so much that I truly thought I'd be alright with the perspective shifts, but after a while, it just wasn't vibing with me. Especially Gaby's storyline. I completely understand why we are dropped in to each of the various character's/ what their individual purpose was in heightening the overall story, but to me, dropping in to Gaby's head didn't feel to add much to the story. I feel as if a lot of what Gaby was doing and thinking was pretty clearly portrayed from Rosalie's POV throughout. 

I also wished the entire story had been longer and would have had even more depth. Again, I really enjoy getting deep into the soul the character's on the page and we only have so much time with them to do that. Certain parts of the novel seemed to fly by so quickly, and all I wanted to do was to dig deeper and learn more, especially when it came to Rosalie and John's entire dynamic, both in the beginning, but especially with regaards to raising their son. The little that was shown in the story left me with the impression that Rosalie allowed John to steamroll over what she felt was right in her heart with little to no consideration for her perspective. Yet she continued staying with him, not putting up much of a fight, yet not resenting him in any way? This part I definitely could have used a bit more to really round out their dynamic.  

Also, I would have LOVED and entire novel specifically dedicated to following Marie Blackbird throughout that entire time period. It would have been amazing to learn even more about how they saved their seeds and protected them from all the turmoil happening at the time. It must have been incredibly difficult to keep them concealed given the war and the schools they were forcibly removed to.

"Just as some women--like Ina and me--had kept the seeds, others too care of the ceremonies and the language until it might be safe again."

Actually, I would have happily read entire novels from many of the perspectives shared within The Seed Keeper. If Wilson ever wished to expand on these characters, I will be the first in line to pic up every one of her stories!

Overall, even though I wasn't a fan of the multiple POVs (it just doesn't feel like something I will ever get into no matter how many novels I try with it), I understood what this novel was trying to do and say. And I cannot deny the gorgeous language and reverence for the natural world that shone through its pages. It is a must read for those two facts alone. 

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