The Round House
Harper | 321 pp | $27.99
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
Great fiction produces compelling stories that seem real. Such is the case of Louise Erdrich's "The Round House," which won the National Book Award in the fiction category in New York last November.
Her Ojibwe Blood Flows Strong in this Novel
"The Round House" is the second book in a planned trilogy. The first, "The Plague of Doves" was a 2009 Pultizer Prize finalist.
Erdrich was born to an Ojibwe mother and German-American father. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Her mother's father served as chairman of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe. Her Ojibwe blood flows strong in "The Round House."
"The Round House" is her fourteenth novel. It is a compelling coming of- ge story, a mystery novel that deals with American Indian culture and family. "The Round House" is a departure from your previous novels in that it's written from a single character's point of view.
Her subject matter in "The Round House" is about an American Indian woman, a tribal enrollment specialist named Geraldine Coutts, who is brutally sexually assaulted in a North Dakotan Ojibwe reservation in 1988. Her husband, Bazil, is a tribal judge, who knows Indian law and its limitations, especially then when American Indian women were raped and little punishment was given because of lack of strong laws.
The couple's 13 year son, Joe, provides the narration for a subject that may make some cringe.
What is so compelling about "The Round House" is the strong reality of sexual abuse perpetrated against Native women. Even though "The Round House" was written as a book of a fictitious story set in 1988, the relevancy is true even today regarding violence against Native women.
Violence against Native women is a major problem throughout the United States. The term violence against Native women applies to domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
One in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during her lifetime. Roughly nine in ten of the perpetrators of violence against Native women are non-Indian men. Almost 40 percent of Native women will be the victim of domestic violence during their lifetime.
Erdrich is a masterful storyteller. Her description of the assaulted Geraldine, seen through the eyes of her young teenager son - who quickly transforms from childhood to manhood - is telling:
"Her serene reserve was gone - a nervous horror welled across her face,"
"Her jaw was indigo. Her eyebrows had always been so expressive of irony and love, but now were held tight by anguish."
In "The Round House," Erdrich wields much power as a writer. Given her National Book Award, the message about violence against Native women may now be spread much more quickly through literary art than in the national media - given the national media seldom touches the subject.
Perhaps, if more congressmen, who opposed the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization had read "The Round House", it would not have taken two years to pass.
For those moved because of this novel that reads like reality, Erdrich deserves more than the National Book Award. She should qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.
updated April 6, 2013 6:20 am edt; posted November 17, 2012 8:30 am est