Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House is the story of Joe, a thirteen-year-old boy, who tries to understand why his mother, Geraldine, was brutally attacked because he wants to help his family become whole again. Louise Erdrich weaves three unique sagas in The Round House and each is a masterpiece.  First, there’s a suspenseful tale of the rape and attempted murder that makes the reader flip the pages to find out whodunit and if he’ll get his just desserts.  Second, is the humorous, satirical, coming-of-age story of Joe, a character as original and engaging as Arnold Spirit in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  And lastly there’s Erdrich’s gold standard, exquisitely picture-perfect view of life on a North Dakota reservation complete with heartache, injustice, and a solid sense of community all told with a vibrato resonance.

You can’t tell if a person is an Indian from a set of fingerprints. You can’t tell from a name. You can’t even tell from a local police report.  You can’t tell from a picture.  From a mug shot.  From a phone number. From the government’s point of view, the only way you can tell an Indian is an Indian is to look at that person’s history.  There must be ancestors from way back who signed some document or were recorded as Indians by the U. S. government, someone identified as a member of a tribe.  And then after that you have to look at that person’s blood quantum, how much Indian blood they’ve got that belongs to one tribe.  In most cases, the government will call the person an Indian if their blood is one quarter – it usually has to be from one tribe.  But that tribe has also got to be federally recognized.  In other words, being an Indian is in some ways a tangle of red tape.

On the other hand, Indians know other Indians without the need for a federal pedigree, and this knowledge, like love, sex, or having or not having a baby – has nothing to do with government. “

Why, why, why did someone rape and attempt to murder Geraldine Coutts?   She’s a good woman, a kind and loving wife and mother and a respected member of her community.  
“My mother’s job was to know everybody’s secrets.  The original census rolls taken in the area that became our reservation go back past 1879 and include a description of each family by tribe, often by clan, by occupation, by relationship, age, and original name in our language.  . .  It was my mother’s task to parse the ever more complicated branching and interbranching tangle of each bloodline.  Through the generations, we have become an impenetrable undergrowth of names and liaisons. At the tip of each branch of course the children are found, those newly enrolled by their parents, or often a single mother or father, with a named parent on the blank whose identity if known might shake the branches of the other trees. Children of incest, molestation, rape, adultery, fornification beyond reservation boundaries or within, children of white farmers, bankers, nuns, BIA superintendents, police and priests. My mother kept her files locked in a safe. . .”

If Geraldine was attacked for the secrets she knew, what will happen if those secrets are unearthed?  Joe and his father, Bazil, a tribal judge, try to find out the attacker’s identity so he can be brought to justice. Joe’s antics with his good friends, his relationship with his bawdy aunt and elders, and his encounters with Father Travis, the local priest, offer comic relief thus allowing the serious themes of identity, greed, racism and injustice to infuse the reader.  In the hands of a less skilled writer, the story might have seemed maudlin or melodramatic, but Erdrich makes each page an adventure. 

This is a more accessible book than many in Erdrich’s oeuvre and it should thus appeal to older teens as well as fans of works like The Master Butcher’s Singing Club. It’s a stand-alone novel and is the second in a planned trilogy that began with A Plague of Doves.

Summing it Up: Read this for a rip-roaring good story. Relish it for its delightfully inventive, yet completely realistic characters.  Remember it for the lessons it imparts on justice, healing and overcoming evil. Savor it for the way it mimics classics like To Kill a Mockingbird in presenting hard truths in a palatable and engaging format. Select it for your next book club discussion. 

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Gourmet, Grandma's Pot Roast, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication date: October 2, 2012

What Others are Saying: 


  1. The Round House is a finalist for the National Book Award. I'm glad it's receiving the accolades it deserves this week.

  2. Watch an interview on PBS for more insight: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/blog/2012/10/conversation-louise-erdrich-on-her-new-novel-the-round-house.html

  3. I have both of her books in this trilogy and can't wait to begin. Once again, you've not only whetted our appetites, you've made this reading mandatory!

  4. I did not know when. I began reading this book that it would capture me so I would not be able to stop turning pages until the end.

    Rowena Hailey (SEO in Indianapolis)

  5. It was a very interesting insight into Indian reservation living.
    The characters were well developed and the outcome was
    rather surprising. I enjoyed The Round House very much.

    Charmaine Smith (For more about Rash Guard Swim Shirt)