One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Written with undeniable urgency, and illuminating the harsh realities of contemporary life in a community where Ojibwe and white live uneasily together, The Round House is a brilliant and entertaining novel, a masterpiece of literary fiction. Louise Erdrich embraces tragedy, the comic, a spirit world very much present in the lives of her all-too-human characters, and a tale of injustice that is, unfortunately, an authentic reflection of what happens in our own world today.
About Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich lives with her family in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. Ms. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and this story—which will, in the end, span one hundred years in the life of an Ojibwe woman—was inspired when Ms. Erdrich and her mother, Rita Gourneau Erdrich, were researching their own family history. Chickadee begins a new part of the story that started with The Birchbark House, a National Book Award finalist; The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction; and the acclaimed The Porcupine Year.
Ms. Erdrich is also the bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels for adults, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves and National Book Award finalist The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. She is also the author of the picture book Grandmother’s Pigeon, illustrated by Jim LaMarche.
Over a decade has passed. Geraldine and Judge Bazil Coutts, who figured prominently in the earlier book, are spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon at home. While Bazil naps, Geraldine, who manages tribal enrollment, gets a phone call. A little later she tells her 13-year-old son, Joe, she needs to pick up a file in her office and drives away. When she returns hours later, the family’s idyllic life and Joe’s childhood innocence are shattered. She has been attacked and raped before escaping from a man who clearly intended to kill her. She is deeply traumatized and unwilling to identify the assailant, but Bazil and Joe go through Bazil’s case files, looking for suspects, men with a grudge against Bazil, who adjudicates cases under Native American jurisdiction, most of them trivial. Joe watches his parents in crisis and resolves to avenge the crime against his mother. But it is summer, so he also hangs out with his friends, especially charismatic, emotionally precocious Cappy. The novel, told through the eyes of a grown Joe looking back at himself as a boy, combines a coming-of-age story (think Stand By Me) with a crime and vengeance story while exploring Erdrich’s trademark themes: the struggle of Native Americans to maintain their identity; the legacy of the troubled, unequal relationship between Native Americans and European Americans, a relationship full of hatred but also mutual dependence; the role of the Catholic Church within a Native American community that has not entirely given up its own beliefs or spirituality. Favorite Erdrich characters like Nanapush and Father Damien make cameo appearances. – Kirkus Reviews
In ‘House,’ Erdrich Sets Revenge On A Reservation
NPR Book Reviews – October 2, 2012 (Excerpt)
In 1988, 13-year-old Joe Coutts is thrust into adulthood after his mother, Geraldine Coutts, is sexually assaulted. His story is at the center of Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Round House.
Erdrich is best known for crafting stories around people with one foot in and one foot out of Native American reservation life, and The Round House is no different. Joe and his family live on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and his father is a tribal judge. In the book, Erdrich explores the complications that arise when tribal laws compete with federal laws in the search for justice.
She joins NPR’s Audie Cornish to discuss the meaning of justice on a reservation, and what she’s learned from writing about revenge. [Read the full article...]
Disturbing the Spirits - ‘The Round House,’ by Louise Erdrich
The New York Times Book Review – October 12, 2012 (Excerpt)
Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel, in which a Native American woman is raped somewhere in the vicinity of a sacred round house, and seeking justice becomes almost as devastating as the crime. The round house itself stands on reservation land, where tribal courts are in charge, but the suspect is white, and tribal courts can’t prosecute non-Native people. Federal law would also seem to apply, but the rape may have taken place on a strip of land that is part of a state park, where North Dakota’s authority is in force, or on another that was sold by the tribe and is thus considered “fee land,” administered under a separate tangle of statutes.
When he hears that the judge handling the case is uncertain whether the accused man can be charged at all, the 13-year-old boy whose mother was raped pursues his own quest for justice. Narrating this gripping story years later, having himself become a public prosecutor, Joe shows how a seemingly isolated crime has many roots. In the process, this young boy will experience a heady jolt of adolescent freedom and a brutal introduction to both the sorrows of grown-up life and the weight of his people’s past — “the gut kick of our history, which I was bracing to absorb.” [Read the full article...]
Ambushed on the Road to Manhood - ‘The Round House,’ Louise Erdrich’s New Novel
The New York Times Book Review – October 15, 2012 (Excerpt)
With “The Round House,” her 14th novel, Louise Erdrich takes us back to the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that she has conjured and mapped in so many earlier books, and made as indelibly real as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Joyce’s Dublin. This time she focuses on one nuclear family — the 13-year-old Joe Coutts; his mother, Geraldine; and his father, Judge Antone Coutts — that is shattered and remade after a terrible event.
Although its plot suffers from a schematic quality that inhibits Ms. Erdrich’s talent for elliptical storytelling, the novel showcases her extraordinary ability to delineate the ties of love, resentment, need, duty and sympathy that bind families together. “The Round House” — a National Book Award finalist in the fiction category — opens out to become a detective story and a coming-of-age story, a story about how Joe is initiated into the sadnesses and disillusionments of grown-up life and the somber realities of his people’s history. [Read the full article...]
‘The Round House,’ by Louise Erdrich
The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review – October 8, 2012 (Excerpt)
In the jarring opening to Louise Erdrich’s beautiful new novel, “The Round House,” a Native American boy learns that his mother has been brutally, and mysteriously, attacked. The assault raises troubling concerns regarding hate crimes against Native American women and who is responsible for solving them.
The victim, Geraldine Coutts, is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, and happens to be married to a tribal judge. Following the attack, questions arise about whether the attacker was Indian or white, and whether the assault occurred on federal, state or tribal land. Geraldine, meanwhile, has sunk into an impenetrable depression and is reluctant to talk; as her 13-year-old son Joe, our narrator, tells us, she “floated off, so that we didn’t know how to retrieve her.” Joe, frustrated with the glacial investigation, sets out to settle matters for himself. [Read the full article...]
The Burden of Justice: Louise Erdrich Talks About ‘The Round House’
The New York Times ArtBeat – October 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
Louise Erdrich’s 14th novel, “The Round House,” was recently named a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s set on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that is so familiar to her readers, and it tells the story of Joe, a 13-year-old who seeks justice after his mother is brutally attacked. In her review, Michiko Kakutani wrote that the novel “opens out to become a detective story and a coming-of-age story, a story about how Joe is initiated into the sadnesses and disillusionments of grown-up life and the somber realities of his people’s history.” In a recent e-mail interview, Ms. Erdrich discussed the difficulty of obtaining justice on reservations, the influence of her father on her fiction and more. [Read the full article...]
Novel About Racial Injustice Wins National Book Award
The New York Times Book Review – November 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
Beating out an unusually competitive field, Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday night for “The Round House,” a novel about a teenage boy’s effort to investigate an attack on his mother on a North Dakota reservation, and his struggle to come to terms with the violence in their culture.
Ms. Erdrich accepted the award in part in her Native American language. She said she wanted to acknowledge “the grace and endurance of native women.”
She added: “This is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations. Thank you for giving it a wider audience.”
The book was published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. Ms. Erdrich is the author of 14 novels, including “Love Medicine,” which was published in 1984. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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