Reviews for Dakota : A Spiritual Geography

Kirkus Reviews 1992 November
A meditative m lange of observations on Midwest land and spirit. Twenty years ago, Norris moved to tiny Lemmon, South Dakota (pop. 1600), to inhabit the house in which her mother grew up. After two decades there as a businesswoman, librarian, and poet-in-residence, she finds that her feelings toward the region remain ambivalent. She enjoys its many little gifts--no crime, no traffic, the closeness of nature (``the way native grasses spring back from a drought, greening before your eyes; the way a snowy owl sits on a fencepost, or a golden eagle hunts'')--but she decries the insularity and pettiness of small-town life, where gossip, inertia, and ignorance are rampant (many people have trouble using a pay phone). She also complains about how outsiders perceive Dakota as a wasteland, a dumping ground for garbage, a home for nuclear missiles. In a word--which she repeats endlessly--Dakota is for her a ``desert.'' This revelation leads Norris, despite her Protestant background, to find solace in local communities of Catholic Benedictine monks, followers of a tradition born in the deserts of Egypt. From them, she learns to relish her Christian heritage; to value hospitality, play, and prayer; to see the silence of the Plains as akin to the silence of the cloisters. This parallelism is effective but overworked: Norris tells us time and again of her struggles while ``pursuing my vocation as a writer''; of how monks resemble farmers; of what's right and wrong about Dakota. The book's structure seems makeshift as well: While the essays on monks and Dakota life share a plain-spoken, kindly intelligence, they sometimes seem only distantly related. Some of the material appeared earlier in small journals (Massachusetts Review, North Dakota Quarterly, etc.), which may account for the echoes and the fuzzy focus. Quiet and clearheaded, with typical first-book flaws. Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal Reviews 1992 December #1
The Dakotas, while thought to be God's country by some, are considered a forgotten land by others. With imagistic flair, poet Norris ( The Year of Common Things , Wayland Pr., 1988) brings alive the history and spirit of the area and its inhabitants. She writes that residing in a small town like Lemmon, North Dakota, can be both a burden and a blessing, giving us insight into her life there by sharing recollections and observations. Norris effectively transports readers into this world by describing her journey of self-discovery and spirituality. Hers is a very personal story, yet it is both philosophical and entertaining. Norris reminds us that beauty and a sense of belonging are only limited by an individual's perception. Recommended for most travel collections. Norris is an LJ reviewer.--Ed.-- Jo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ontario Copyright 1992 Cahners Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 1992 December #1
Nearly 20 years ago, poet Kathleen Norris and her husband moved from New York to the isolated town of Lemmon in northwestern South Dakota, home of her grandparents. Living there radically changed her sense of time and place, forcing her to come to terms with her heritage, her religious beliefs and the land. Norris learned to value the prairie landscape and to cope with the harsh climate. She found small-town life a mass of contradictions: generous hospitality mixed with suspicion of strangers, inertia and a sense of inferiority. One boon to her new life was a community of Benedictine monks; with them she recaptured her (Protestant) Christian faith and discovered inner peace. This is a fine portrait of the High Plains and its people as well as a very personal memoir of a spiritual awakening. (Jan.) Copyright 1992 Cahners Business Information.