Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Round House

It probably seems a tad disingenuous to come out roaring about a great read once that book has already won the National Book Award but that's what I must do in the case of Louise Erdrich's beautiful new novel The Round House. You will love every minute of time that you spend with Joe as he narrates the story of his thirteen year old self and the violent act that tore the heart out his family.

Erdrich, if you are unfamiliar with her, is a descendant of the Ojibwe tribe of native Americans, so, much of her fiction addresses the inequities that continue to plague the modern native Americans as they traverse the rocky path between assimilation and adherence to tribal customs. Joe and his parents live on an ever shrinking North Dakota reservation where his dad, Bazil, is a tribal judge and his mom, Geraldine, works as a tribal enrollment specialist.

For young Joe life was pretty idyllic, with family all living in close proximity the boy always had a home he could crash in, grandmas always had extra food on the stove. He and his pals biked everywhere, fishing and hiking, wrapped in a security that was shattered the Sunday afternoon his mom failed to come home from an appointment.

Viciously attacked by a rapist, Geraldine manages to escape with devastating physical injuries that can be stitched up, but it's the emotional damage that drives her into a near catatonic state as she hides in her room, sleeping away the day, ignoring her family, and refusing to talk to either the tribal or city police.

Bazil's love for his wife and son is an amazing thing, so patient, so caring, as he continues Geraldine's work of planting flowers and vegetables, forcing Joe to dig in the earth, to work off his frustration and anger at the helplessness he feels in the face of his mother's anguish.

Erdrich creates some marvelously flawed but fully developed characters who play important roles in Joe's education and maturation, especially former Marine, Father Travis of the Catholic order that's made inroads on the reservation, and Sonya, a woman with a cloudy past but a nurturing instinct, who takes Joe under her wing, employing him in the family business.

The Round House is an exquisitely wrought piece that examines the universal themes of innocence lost, the age old tug between good and evil, the application of vengeance versus justice. In addition Ms. Erdrich teaches a history lesson that seems to be lost on those who constantly whine about "taking their country back." Whose country?

The government that decimated the native tribes, stole their land, and perpetuated the myth of their "savage" nature, put in motion a travesty that has carried down through generations that are still reeling from the indifference of the authorities to unsolved crimes committed by outsiders on the reservations.

No comments: