Synopsis of The Round House by Louise Erdrich: 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 as 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, who is 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.
My two centsThe round house, a sacred meeting place for the Ojibwe, becomes the site of the violent rape of Geraldine Coutts. Traumatized, Geraldine practically shuts down. Bazil, her husband and tribal judge, and her 13-year-old son, Joe, are at a loss at how to draw her out.
As Geraldine slowly comes out her stupor, she refuses to divulge the identity of the perpetrator, fearing for her life. This sets Bazil on a quest to find out the truth, unwittingly drawing Joe into a complicated web of relationships steeped in an even more complex Native American past.
***There are books that surprise you. And there are books that will shake you to the core because of their power. This is one of them. Wow. Just wow.
This book opens thus: "Small trees had attacked my parent's house at the foundation," a foreshadowing that segues into an intense chapter of how Joe and his father, sensing that something is amiss, search for Joe's mother and discover what happened. In a mere 16 pages, I was hooked.
What I found surprising is just how easy and uncomplicated the writing was despite the intensity and heaviness of the subject matter, I reveled in how languidly Erdrich's voice flowed and swirled and drenched me. Sidenote: I had this book in my recent readathon and I chose not to speedread this one because I couldn't, just couldn't, do that to this book.
The first person narration brings an immediacy, an extremely personal and vulnerable voice, a voice of a 13-year-old boy forced towards adulthood. It is the voice of Joe, now an adult and a lawyer, telling this story. But he speaks as he would when he was only 13 years old, but he does so unsentimentally and uncensored as the young are apt to.
I never once felt that the characters were "characters," as they were so well fleshed out that I came to believe that Joe, the people in the reservation, and these incidents were real.
This has been described as a coming-of-age story, but to reduce it to that simple and convenient phrase would be a disservice to this book. I felt this was more than it seemed because of the complexity of its themes. It is a story of paradoxes: how a traumatic event can bring a community together yet highlight the differences among them, and how seeking out justice for a wrong can result in a twisted sense of revenge.
***Verdict: Suspense, mystery, mysticism, justice and a young boy coming into his own, I found this relevant, heartbreaking and deeply moving. I loved everything about this book. This makes my favourites list for my 2013 reads. Louise Erdrich has made a fast fan out of me.
Which brings us the the sad fact that this story is rooted in reality. The afterword (p. 321) provides the context for this story: complicated laws hinder the prosecution of rape cases on reservations, that Native American women have 1 in 3 chance of being raped in their lifetime, and that majority of the perpetrators are non-Native Americans.
I was also fascinated with the historical and cultural aspects of the story. Although this takes place in contemporary times, Erdrich weaves in the lesser known and even morbid history of government with the Native American people, the attack on their religion and their way of life, and the ramifications of this history on the present. Culturally, I was fascinated with the peek into Ojibwe tradition, the folklore, and dream sequences. These come together to make the storyline robust, the characters realistic, and the morals come into razor sharp focus.
About Louise ErdrichLouise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. She lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.
Check out Louise Erdrich's blog on Birchbark Books or her official Facebook page.
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I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.