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A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakota people. Until, one morning, R A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakota people. Until, one morning, Ray doesn't return from checking his traps. Told she has no family, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family in nearby Mankato--where the reserved, bookish teenager meets rebellious Gaby Makespeace, in a friendship that transcends the damaged legacies they've inherited. On a winter's day many years later, Rosalie returns to her childhood home. A widow and mother, she has spent the previous two decades on her white husband's farm, finding solace in her garden even as the farm is threatened first by drought and then by a predatory chemical company. Now, grieving, Rosalie begins to confront the past, on a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong. In the process, she learns what it means to be descended from women with souls of iron--women who have protected their families, their traditions, and a precious cache of seeds through generations of hardship and loss, through war and the insidious trauma of boarding schools. Weaving together the voices of four indelible women, The Seed Keeper is a beautifully told story of reawakening, of remembering our original relationship to the seeds and, through them, to our ancestors.


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A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakota people. Until, one morning, R A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakota people. Until, one morning, Ray doesn't return from checking his traps. Told she has no family, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family in nearby Mankato--where the reserved, bookish teenager meets rebellious Gaby Makespeace, in a friendship that transcends the damaged legacies they've inherited. On a winter's day many years later, Rosalie returns to her childhood home. A widow and mother, she has spent the previous two decades on her white husband's farm, finding solace in her garden even as the farm is threatened first by drought and then by a predatory chemical company. Now, grieving, Rosalie begins to confront the past, on a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong. In the process, she learns what it means to be descended from women with souls of iron--women who have protected their families, their traditions, and a precious cache of seeds through generations of hardship and loss, through war and the insidious trauma of boarding schools. Weaving together the voices of four indelible women, The Seed Keeper is a beautifully told story of reawakening, of remembering our original relationship to the seeds and, through them, to our ancestors.

30 review for The Seed Keeper

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    This is a beautifully written novel, a marriage of history and fiction, and one that is imagined with so much of the truth of the past and present. It doesn’t matter that the names of the characters are not real. What matters is that what happens here represents real life events, and a culture and history which reflect the love and the nurturing given by the women of the Dakhota nation. Over generations they provide for their children and their children’s children onwards to bring them food and This is a beautifully written novel, a marriage of history and fiction, and one that is imagined with so much of the truth of the past and present. It doesn’t matter that the names of the characters are not real. What matters is that what happens here represents real life events, and a culture and history which reflect the love and the nurturing given by the women of the Dakhota nation. Over generations they provide for their children and their children’s children onwards to bring them food and life and the stories that bind them to each other and their legacy. What matters here is the truth of an awful history and the dangers for the environment and, of course the seeds and their keepers. When I first met Rosalie Iron Wing, I was moved by her sadness, the void in her heart, missing the things of her old life, having lived for nearly thirty years away from the reservation. Now her dreams, her memories of her childhood with her father before the foster homes, have sparked a yearning to know about her history, her people, the mother she never new. These are the things that call her home. Mostly told from Rosalie’s point of view, she tells of her childhood. It’s about the stories her father told her, the things he taught her, how he wouldn’t let her forget what happened in Mankato in 1862. It’s about her years after as the wife of a white farmer, to the present coming home. In this introspective narrative we are made privy to what it was like being a Native American in a town of whites, the rift between her and her husband over the seeds and planting, over their son, the heartbreaking tensions in her relationship with her son. There are two other narratives, voices of two other women. Rosalie’s best friend Gaby, whose friendship helped her get through those foster home years, comes in and out of Rosalie’s life through the years. Gaby is feisty and smart and through her work brings to light the danger to the environment, especially the rivers by toxic chemicals used in farming. The third narrative takes us back to the 1880’s and then in the 1920’s with Marie Blackbird’s story poignantly telling of the seeds and the heartbreaking and ugly truths . Her story reflects the anguish of losing children, taken away by the government to schools, losing home, land and life, bringing a connection to Rosalie’s heritage. So yes, there are messages here, important ones, told beautifully in this debut novel by a writer, who herself is Dakhota. I learned about things I didn’t know (see link below). I was so taken with Rosalie’s story and the history of the Dakhotas and I couldn’t put it down. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakot... I received a copy of this book from Milkweed Editions through Edelweiss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    My review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: https://www.startribune.com/review-th... It's hard to think of a more literally or symbolically powerful object than a seed — a bond to the past, a source of sustenance in the present, and a promise for the future, a seed is physically tiny but enduring beyond measure. In her moving and monumental debut novel, "The Seed Keeper," author Diane Wilson uses both the concept and the reality of seeds to explore the story of her Dakota protagonist Rosalie Iron W My review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: https://www.startribune.com/review-th... It's hard to think of a more literally or symbolically powerful object than a seed — a bond to the past, a source of sustenance in the present, and a promise for the future, a seed is physically tiny but enduring beyond measure. In her moving and monumental debut novel, "The Seed Keeper," author Diane Wilson uses both the concept and the reality of seeds to explore the story of her Dakota protagonist Rosalie Iron Wing, the displaced daughter of a former science teacher and the widow of a white farmer grappling with her understanding of identity and community in the face of loss and trauma. "I was soothed by plants," Rosalie thinks early on, as a newlywed, as she establishes her own garden, "comforted by the long patience of trees." Wilson, a Mdewakanton descendant enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation, currently lives in Shafer, Minn. She is also the author of the memoir "Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past," which won a Minnesota Book Award and was chosen for the One Minneapolis One Read program, as well as the nonfiction book "Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life." Significant to her focus in this latest book, she has served as the executive director for Dream of Wild Health and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. Epic in its sweep, "The Seed Keeper" uses a chorus of female voices — Rosalie, her great-aunt Darlene Kills Deer, her best friend Gaby Makepeace, and her ancestor Marie Blackbird who in 1862 saved her own mother's seeds — to recount the intergenerational narrative of the U.S. government's deliberate destruction of Indigenous ways of life with a focus on these Native families' connections to their traditions through the seeds they cherish and hand down. With that, Wilson juxtaposes the detrimental shifts in white mass agriculture — the "hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, new equipment" that exhaust the soil, harm the people working it, and pollute the rivers and groundwater. When her father dies of a heart attack when she's only 12, rather than letting her live with her extended family, the authorities send Rosalie to grow up under the abusive and racist conditions of foster care. We meet her in 2002 at age 40 when the novel opens, as she thinks of herself as "an Indian farmer, the government's dream come true." In the wake of her husband's death, she has felt called to return to the cabin of her birth, and from there, through her reflections, the reader experiences an interwoven tapestry of oppression and resistance. The threat of disasters both natural and man-made, meteorological and industrial, loom over Wilson's indelible cast of major and minor characters, as does the pressing question: "Who are we if we can't even feed ourselves?" Wilson opens her book with the poem "The Seeds Speak," in which the seeds declare, "We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to / infinity that reaches to the stars." This novel illuminates that expansiveness with elegance and gravity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth Marnik

    Reply beautiful and heart wrenching story about the situations that wrenched apart indigenous families and the threads connecting family. I highly recommend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Johnson

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quick take: one of the most beautiful books I've read in years. This eco-feminist multi-generational saga taught me so much about the history of the Dakota tribe, their sacred seed-keeping rituals, and the numerous hardships they endured. Woven into multiple timelines to create a poetic, heart-breaking, and quietly hopeful story, this novel blurs the lines between literary fiction and nonfiction in a way that haunt I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quick take: one of the most beautiful books I've read in years. This eco-feminist multi-generational saga taught me so much about the history of the Dakota tribe, their sacred seed-keeping rituals, and the numerous hardships they endured. Woven into multiple timelines to create a poetic, heart-breaking, and quietly hopeful story, this novel blurs the lines between literary fiction and nonfiction in a way that haunts me. Since reading it, I have been thinking more deeply about families and legacies. I would recommend this to book clubs who are looking for more in-depth discussions than a big bestseller might provide and to readers interested in strong female characters, Indigenous histories, farming, or gardening. Come chat with me about books here, too: Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    “I studied the patience of the red oak so perfectly formed over many years, as she endured the cold. In the fall, she prepared by pulling the energy of sunlight belowground, to be stored in her roots, much as I preserved the harvest from my garden. Through a season that seems too cold for anything to survive, the tree simply waits, still growing inside, and dreams of spring. Without fully understanding yet why I had come back, I began to think it was for this, for the slow return of a language I “I studied the patience of the red oak so perfectly formed over many years, as she endured the cold. In the fall, she prepared by pulling the energy of sunlight belowground, to be stored in her roots, much as I preserved the harvest from my garden. Through a season that seems too cold for anything to survive, the tree simply waits, still growing inside, and dreams of spring. Without fully understanding yet why I had come back, I began to think it was for this, for the slow return of a language I once knew. The language of this place.” I need to say from the outset, that I am not Dakhota. The history in this book is not my history. Even histories of boarding schools vary between Dakhota and Ojibwe people because we were not exiled from our homes. Still, this book felt like a call to those parts of me that still need to heal from trauma inflicted through colonialism. I love this book with my whole heart. Diane Wilson’s The Seed Keeper is honestly one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Filled with loving descriptions of prairie lands, of woods, of rivers, of gardens growing in a midwestern summer, I felt the call of that landscape. I could envision the heat, the power of storms, the coldness of a winter in what is now that state of Minnesota. Following a nonlinear (though sometimes quite linear) timeline, we follow Roaslie Iron Wing, a Dakhota woman who is reeling from compounded loss. She was taken from her family and community as a child, raised in a foster home where she felt alone and unwanted, left to fend for herself and find a way to survive a world that holds onto anti-Indigenous hostility. Important to this story is how her family survived the US-Dakhota War of 1862 and boarding schools, though not without the scars of intergenerational trauma. We see Rosalie return home to her family’s land and we watch as she rebuilds connections to a family she didn’t know had sought her out for years and to a community she didn’t feel she belonged to. This story is also about rebuilding and protecting Dakhota connections to lands, to trees, waters, and plants. It’s a novel about coming home, about healing even if the path isn’t entirely clear, and about caring for future generations. The most stunning parts of this novel demonstrate the intimacy and love Dakhota women have with seeds that sustain their families and Dakhota culture. Wilson beautifully demonstrates how important seeds are to everything else, how keeping and caring for seeds and the earth they grow in is a practiced act of survival for Indigenous peoples. I was at a talk Wilson gave a couple of years ago and she talked about this book, about how there are stories of Dakhota women carrying their seeds with them to Fort Snelling, where they were incarcerated after the US-Dakhota War, and to Crow Creek and Santee after Dakhota people were legally and physically exiled from their homelands. She talked about how Dakhota women would sew seeds into the hems of their skirts. It was at that moment I knew this book was going to be such an essential literary contribution. Dakhota history is not easy and Wilson reminds us of this consistently, but there is strength and beauty and love in Dakhota survival as evidenced through protection of such seeds themselves. CW: death of a parent, terminal illness, suicide, suicidal thoughts, racism, alcoholism, mentions of drug use, child abuse, child death, inference of sexual assault

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    A compulsive yet unsentimental page turner told from multiple POVs, with generational trauma through several families, focusing on farming in Minnesota. It is unflinching in its look at the costs of survival, both emotionally in humans, and to the earth. The humans may screw up, but the seeds, the treasure, endure.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Akbar

    This is a heartbreaking tale of quiet survival with beautiful threads of hope that never break. But more than that, it's a story about protecting the sacred and mending connections. A perfect truth filled fiction to read alongside Braiding Sweetgrass. This is a heartbreaking tale of quiet survival with beautiful threads of hope that never break. But more than that, it's a story about protecting the sacred and mending connections. A perfect truth filled fiction to read alongside Braiding Sweetgrass.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    This isn't bad...but it does promise more than it delivers. Certainly, the premise left me with high expectations. Love the idea of someone finding a connection with family through saved seeds, bravo! Loved all of the gardening lessons and trials. In a fluky parallel, a recently discovered cousin just mailed 'seeds from the old country', inspiring a powerful sense of family history, and with that, I could relate even more to the joy of having family seeds in hand along with the hope that they mi This isn't bad...but it does promise more than it delivers. Certainly, the premise left me with high expectations. Love the idea of someone finding a connection with family through saved seeds, bravo! Loved all of the gardening lessons and trials. In a fluky parallel, a recently discovered cousin just mailed 'seeds from the old country', inspiring a powerful sense of family history, and with that, I could relate even more to the joy of having family seeds in hand along with the hope that they might grow. While the overall plot is appealing, the execution feels unfinished, maybe a little rushed to market, feels like it needs a little more time, more polish, and consideration. The characters are all interesting, yet there was a strong feeling for me that that the author doesn't expect the reader to understand much and resorts to explaining, with more telling over showing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meg K.

    Rosalie Iron Wing has left the home she's known for 20 years, looking for answers to her past and hope for her future. Her journey recounts the story of the seeds that were handed down through the generations. As times change and seeds are becoming genetically modified, Rosalie struggles to keep her traditions alive. The Seed Keeper is not only an amazing story, it is a story for our times. Rosalie's struggles are many, but she holds to her own sense of truth and tradition. Rosalie Iron Wing has left the home she's known for 20 years, looking for answers to her past and hope for her future. Her journey recounts the story of the seeds that were handed down through the generations. As times change and seeds are becoming genetically modified, Rosalie struggles to keep her traditions alive. The Seed Keeper is not only an amazing story, it is a story for our times. Rosalie's struggles are many, but she holds to her own sense of truth and tradition.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Meta

    The Seed Keeper is an amazing book about three native Indian women. It is very well told by Diane Wilson weaving fiction and history together in a way you just do not want to put the book down. I learned a lot about the plight of the Indians back then and even now as well.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I am preoccupied by seeds and gardening right now, particularly in Black and indigenous fiction, so I knew when I saw that this novel was being released by Milkweed Press, which published Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, that I would want to read it immediately. Surprisingly, I was less compelled by the material actually about plants and seeds and the difficulty in keeping them and preserving them and making sure that the seed stock will I am preoccupied by seeds and gardening right now, particularly in Black and indigenous fiction, so I knew when I saw that this novel was being released by Milkweed Press, which published Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, that I would want to read it immediately. Surprisingly, I was less compelled by the material actually about plants and seeds and the difficulty in keeping them and preserving them and making sure that the seed stock will survive (growing them out is necessary, and yet if you don't reserve enough, you can lose your bounty in a poorly timed storm) than I was in the familial corollary to the seed story. It is striking how many Black and indigenous writers focus on the reconstitution of lost family history then they think about plants and foodways (see also Michael Twitty). Wilson reflects on the challenges to preserve a family line and inherited knowledge, given the violences of settler colonialism, from exile, war, and genocide to the "Indian schools," broken families, and addiction. This multi-generational story insists (rightly) that trauma radiates through time. There is also a muckraker element of the novel reminiscent of Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, discussing a fictionalized Monsanto, the use of pesticides, and the pollution of Minnesota riverways. The novel means to be didactic, and its positions on GMOs and industrial farming are clear. But I think that many white readers would be unfamiliar with the forms of racism faced by Rosie, who was put into foster care with white families when her father died in spite of her family's desire to care for her, and also with the relationship between alcoholism, addiction, domestic abuse, and historical trauma. I found the central marriage plot compelling (Rosie meets alcoholic white farmer, John, while working as a farm hand, and he invites her to marry him to get out of her foster home), particularly as John's blind spots as a landowner who has been taught a particular narrative of the frontier and of the nation become clear. Also, in spite of thinking of myself as a well-informed person, I was shocked and disturbed that it wasn't until 1979 that an act was passed that determined that the custody of Native American children should go to members of their families rather than be immediately turned over to the foster system in the case of parental death or incapacity. Overall, the novel was a little bit preachy and on the nose for my tastes, but these are important histories and ecologies to preach about (hence the four stars rather than three).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I found so many moments in The Seed Keeper that left me stunned into listening deeper to the silence around me. Diane Wilson's character's memories are shared here through the earth - as a seed sower and protector, she hears the voices of her people and the land that was with them throughout time. I kindly received an advance reader copy of this book from Edelweiss. There is so much pain, love, and growth in the stories she shares. The ups and downs of family and friends and love. The wise words, I found so many moments in The Seed Keeper that left me stunned into listening deeper to the silence around me. Diane Wilson's character's memories are shared here through the earth - as a seed sower and protector, she hears the voices of her people and the land that was with them throughout time. I kindly received an advance reader copy of this book from Edelweiss. There is so much pain, love, and growth in the stories she shares. The ups and downs of family and friends and love. The wise words, the human mistakes, the messiness and beauty of it all. We get to see her find the missing pieces, solve some of the mysteries, and view certain experiences that changed with the light of outside influences. Wilson weaves us through each of these narratives while also breathing life into the trees and the gardens and the abundant land that strengthened these connections, taking breath from words long-ago spoken and pulling them into the howl of the wind outside a family home. Hard-hitting but satisfying, heart-breaking but uplifting, The Seed Keeper reminds us of the real fabric of family and finds beauty within its imperfections.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Absolutely no doubt of the 5-star rating... incredible novel. Beautiful storytelling This is the story of the strength of women, of families in general but specifically of the Native Peoples in North America whose families, homes, lives were torn apart by the whites - their lands and way of life stolen, trashed, but worse, their children taken from them and raised away from traditions and family. The story weaves together the lives of 4 Dakhota women over the years, giving us a glimpse of each but Absolutely no doubt of the 5-star rating... incredible novel. Beautiful storytelling This is the story of the strength of women, of families in general but specifically of the Native Peoples in North America whose families, homes, lives were torn apart by the whites - their lands and way of life stolen, trashed, but worse, their children taken from them and raised away from traditions and family. The story weaves together the lives of 4 Dakhota women over the years, giving us a glimpse of each but framed by the contemporary story of Rosalie. Part of this story also addresses the damage done by the major pesticide/seed companies (think Monsanto) done to our farmland and waterways, and the awareness and work done by Dakhota people who understood... pertinent. Great novel, read it!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    This book has blown open my heart to the horrendous suffering inflicted upon the Native American people by colonial land grabbers and religious indoctrination. A piece of this cultural history is told through the story of the generations of Dahkota women who protected, nurtured and saved the seed that would grow into the food that kept families and a culture alive. I have glimpsed the beauty of the natural rhythms, of the seasons, the river, the soil, the trees the birds and animals and the gent This book has blown open my heart to the horrendous suffering inflicted upon the Native American people by colonial land grabbers and religious indoctrination. A piece of this cultural history is told through the story of the generations of Dahkota women who protected, nurtured and saved the seed that would grow into the food that kept families and a culture alive. I have glimpsed the beauty of the natural rhythms, of the seasons, the river, the soil, the trees the birds and animals and the gentleness of gardeners who respect all of those natural rhythms. Such a thought provoking book and a call to action to respect and nurture the natural world and the ancient cultural traditions. A stunning book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Deb M.

    Take a bit of history, a bit of science, and add some human nature. Braid these three elements together and you get one heck of a story! Diane Wilson proves herself to be a gifted storyteller with "The Seed Keeper. Take a bit of history, a bit of science, and add some human nature. Braid these three elements together and you get one heck of a story! Diane Wilson proves herself to be a gifted storyteller with "The Seed Keeper.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Sunflower

    Such a beautiful and important book. I couldn't put it down. Such a beautiful and important book. I couldn't put it down.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Compassionately and beautifully written. Immersive story with rich characters.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carina Pereira

    Absolutely amazing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Barb Bankard

    An excellent book, and timely as Earth Day approaches.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pamoliverio

    If you have an interest and appreciation for the history of plants, Native American culture and history and personal journeys, then this is a must read. If not, read this anyway. You will enhance your understanding of the perils of native peoples, the determination of spirit, and the corruption of Big Farming.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Oh my. Moving and powerful. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Oh my. Moving and powerful. One of the best books I've read in a long time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Loved the narrative style and the historical significance of the story it told. We need to remind ourselves of the truth and be grateful always,

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    One of the best books I’ve ever read. Exceptional up to the end.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    a beautiful story of generations of Dakhota women which includes visceral descriptions of how boarding schools decimated families.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    A powerful story!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Such a good book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jo Hahn

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark

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