The Round House by Louise Erdrich: A Bittersweet Coming-Of-Age Story

The Round HouseThe Round House, National Book Award winner, is a riveting, moving and emotionally compelling story by an unbeatable, generation-spanning chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich. In this page-turning masterpiece, Erdrich illustrates that how racial abhorrence, old crimes, and a history of social injustice can reverberate for generations. Second book in the planned trilogy, The Round House repeats the same characters from her 2008 novel “The Plague of Doves.”

The author’s 14th novel plunges the reader back to a fictional North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that she has plotted in so many of her earlier works and made as indelibly real as Joyce’s Dublin.  As the novel opens, we are made to experience 13-year old Joe’s perspective about the brutal rape and beating of his mother, and of his suspicion that the police investigation has been less than thorough, and realization of his father’s limited power to rescue his own family.

The horrible and traumatic event took place somewhere in the vicinity of the round house that gives the novel its title. It was built as a sacred place where Ojibwe practiced their religious ceremonies. The Joe, his father and mother are Chippewa Indians, but the suspect is non-native and tribal courts can’t prosecute him, until it’s known where jurisdiction lies. When Joe comes to know that his father, a tribal judge, can’t do anything in this case and is helpless before absurd laws, he determines to track down his mother’s attacker with the help of his trusted friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus.

What is so compelling about the novel is the sexual assault against Native women, its investigation and its consequences that how a premature Joe is jarringly ushered into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. Louise Erdrich has created an intense portrayal of real-world injustice and turned this bedrock truth into a powerful human story in this novel. Erdrich clarifies in her afterword that the complexities of heritage and law have long made it difficult to take legal action against whites for crimes committed on or around reservation land.

Erdrich writes so thoughtfully and brilliantly about the vibrant community and gives out the details of the life of an Ojibwe reservation that is unfamiliar to most of us. Moreover, her novel is not only wrenching and tragic but also embraces a touch of comedy, while she instills the teen crushes with a sense of potential and optimism. The most noteworthy and pleasing aspect of Erdrich’s writing is that while her stories sometimes grows slack or rambling, the language is always tight, witty and lyrical.

This novel shines for many reasons, mainly because of deep and vivid descriptions of American Indian life. All the characters in the novel are realistically drawn and author brings the characters and tales together with refinement and certainty. Moreover, the aftermath of rape is explained in unflinching and lively prose without any manipulation.

So, all in all, The Round House is a gripping tale of justice and revenge with an earnest message that touches on the hearts and souls of us all.

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