Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round HouseThe Round House by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Round House took me to another world (life on a Native American reservation) and showed me that world through someone dealing with a horrible situation that could have occurred where anyone lived. The novel was intense yet also educational.

The story is told through the point of view of Joe, a young boy who is the second Antone Bazil Coutts, but prefers to be called Joe. When Geraldine, Joe's mother, is brutally raped, their family is thrown into emotional hell. She refuses to talk about what happened to her for a couple of reasons. Although she survived, she has been hurt physically and is an emotional wreck. She is also very protective of her family and doesn't want either her husband or her son to be placed in danger while seeking justice. Joe's father is a judge, dealing with crimes that occur on the reservation.

Punishment of the crime is complicated by confusion about legal jurisdiction. The rape was committed at the Round House, a spiritual center that is built partially on Native American land and partially on land granted to the reservation. Before legal action can start, it is critical to know the exact place in the Round House where Geraldine was raped and she refuses to tell.

I appreciated what I learned about the complications of the Native American legal process. I also appreciated what I learned about growing up on the reservation. Joe seems to know every family living near his and is related to most of them. His friends are often cousins. He sometimes rides his bike to their homes and stays there, especially as his mother recovers. It is almost as if he is being raised communally. One interesting fact I learned was about an item called a “thunderbird egg.” This is a stone taken from the foot of a tree that has been hit by lightening. It is supposed to have good luck, although that belief comes into doubt later in the book.

There is a racial aspect to the rape and to the crime that led to it, but greed is more the motivation than hate. Again, I liked how Native American topics were intrinsic to the book, yet were not the only aspects.

I had a couple of issues. I thought the way Geraldine managed to survive the attack was a stretch and there were some coincidences that diminished the story's believability. But those issues were small compared to the good points of the novel.

Overall, I loved this book for its plot more than for what it taught me about life on a reservation. The story grabbed me and held on until I turned the last page. Erdrich's writing style is beautiful.

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