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Heart of the Beast

Heart of the Beast

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Twenty-eight-year-old Iris Steele has just inherited her family's ranch in northeast Oregon. It is the ranch where she grew up herding cattle and harvesting wheat, and where her brother and father both died. It is also, it turns out, land that the Nez Percé Indians now claim is rightfully theirs. As Iris begins to piece together the property's legitimate ownership, she unearths not only her family's turbulent history but also two centuries of tortured relationships between homesteaders and Native Americans. Struggling with a new crop and a fragile romance, she must ultimately confront the true nature of her legacy.
In astonishing language, Joyce Weatherford combines unflinching descriptions of ranch life with the sensuous beauty of the Oregon landscape. part romance, mystery, courtroom drama, and history, Heart of the Beast is a family saga of epic power and import.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743211802 | 
  • September 2002
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Read an Excerpt

The harvest was complete in the morning, and that evening my mother died. I went to bed late that night, full of the raw ending of crop and life, and dreamed about the Nez Perce children, their shiny black hair cut short and falling smoothly to the side. They ran to my house screaming, chanting; but it wasn't for money, kitchway, like my mother described. I walked outside and saw the bodies of the children's parents cut into pieces, bound oddly back together. A wide-eyed head coupled with a foot, a hand joined a stomach, red and messy; it was a bloody totem. No matter how carved up they were, I could still see it was their mothers and fathers. I knew... see more

Reading Group Guide

A SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION READING GROUP GUIDE
HEART OF THE BEAST
DISCUSSION POINTS
1. Heart of the Beast opens to Iris's disturbing and bloody dream of the Nez Perce Indians and concludes with her father's violent death. What other violent images and scenes do you remember from the story? What do these scenes tell us about this land, this life, and this family? What does the calving scene illustrate about the relationship between Iris and her mother, and, likewise, what does the branding and castrating scene show about Ike and his children?
2. Farming has often been portrayed in literature as the work of men against an implacable earth. In this novel, the farmland is often portrayed as feminine: on page 7, we learn that the family farmed by the cycles of the moon; on page 8, the ground lies "vulnerable, carvable, and pliant," and later, the "gold grain rushed into the bin the way a mother's milk comes in a while after a baby is born." How do these and similar images shape our perception of the land and the act of farming? What do they say about Iris as a single woman running a farm on her own?
3. The novel revolves around the question of whether Iris and her family are the rightful owners of the property they call Heart of the Beast or whether the land belongs to the Nez Perce. Were you surprised by the way this issue was ultimately resolved? Was the decision fair? Who do you believe the land belongs to, and what would you have done in Iris's p see more

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