There are two stories in The Translation of Dr. Apelles. One is resolved traditionally, while the other ends in a bit of post-modern trickery. Both, however, end well. Author David Treuer even manages to tie the two stories together, though it seems impossible at first.
The novel hints right at the beginning that things will be non-traditional. A sentence begins on one page ("It was a time of") and ends as a chapter title several pages later ("war."), signaling that language and time may be stretched as things progress. In fact, Treuer settles down quickly to the stories at hand, and doesn't resurrect this technique until the last few pages.
Instead, we are plunged into the translated work, facing challenges of a different sort as we read of a mother's sacrifice in difficult times, as she tries to save her son. He is saved, improbably, by a moose. Adding to the unlikelihood is the next chapter, in which a young girl is saved, at least as improbably, by a wolf.
Since the book is billed as "a love story," we may suspect that the paths of these two will cross, and soon Bimaadiz (the foundling boy) and Eta (the foundling girl) do meet, though they are too young at the time to fall in love right away. In the meantime, we step back to examine the life of the translator of this story, Dr. Apelles, and the profound impact translating this story is having on him. Only later do we begin to understand the impact he is having on the story.
The author is Ojibwe, from the Leech Lake Reservation. This seems more important in the story of Dr. Apelles than it does the two young people, though it gives the entire novel authenticity on every page. The story of Bimaadiz and Eta includes a depiction of a traditional reservation lifestyle, and even features occasional untranslated words from native languages, but the story of Dr. Apelles is at once more familiar and more foreign, because it is set in our world, or one very much like it. I might have trouble relating to the hunting and trapping and tribal life, but I can grasp Dr. Apelles' struggle to find a place for himself outside of the reservation on which he was born.