Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"The Round House" by Louise Erdrich

This is slightly out of orbit for me, since I usually only consider things from the 1970s and back historical, while this is set in the 1980s. However, due to the setting (an American 'Indian' reservation in North Dakota), it does have that certain historic feel to it that I usually crave in my bookish journeys.

There is a largely ignored epidemic that this book addresses: the rape of Native American women. Native women are much more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than the general population of women (who also have a pretty dang high chance of sexual assault already). I only knew this prior to reading this book due to diligent documentaries on PBS: otherwise, I was completely in the dark, despite living less than an hour away from a reservation for most of my life.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'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 because 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, 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.'

Although I could see what the author was attempting to do by giving us the story through Joe's eyes, I would've much rather heard it through his mother's perspective. Certainly, there's a great deal more mystery with the way it was originally written, but I can't help but want the information firsthand rather than retold. Joe's perspective shows us what life is like growing up on the rez, which may be a obscurity to some, but for me, I had secondhand stories that were far more entertaining than this book offered. My familiarity with the lifestyle may have spoiled some of the book for me, causing me to skim most of the ending.

Despite my skimming, this book was still well worth the read, especially if you aren't familiar with the culture of reservations. I highlighted many more quotes than there were actual 'popular highlights' for my Kindle version, which really doesn't happen often. The author's style and prose is one I hope to continue to enjoy by reading her other works.

A favorite segment:
I lay awake thinking of the place on the hill, the holy wind in the grass, and how the structure had cried out to me. I could see a part of something larger, an idea, a truth, but just a fragment. I could not see the whole, but just a shadow of that way of life.

     ~The Round House by Louise Erdrich, page 215 Kindle edition

The Round House is a snapshot of life on the reservation in the eighties... and perhaps it is even applicable in some ways now. Although some things have changed for the better, there are still far too many sexual assaults currently taking place. In some ways, this book deserves a better rating simply for that. But on a strictly entertainment basis, I rate it 3.5 Stars- a great, recommendable read for those interested in the subject matter.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great diverse read that took its time ending!

Content: Ages 18+ for lengthy sections on sexuality, violence, and possibly triggering scenes of rape and implied brutality.

Page Count: 368 pages


  1. I have heard of this book, but not really looked closely at it. Your review has me curious though. In my pre-blogging days, I read a lot of books about reservation like and Native American history. I will have to look for this one.

    1. Something about this book said 'must buy', and I think it may have been the cover. Depending on your previous reads, you may love this or skim a little- having heard the secondhand tales of rez life, I skimmed a little, but I still found it worth a read simply for the subject matter.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Wendy!
      ~Litha Nelle


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