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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

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Matthew Brophy has commented on (2) products.

The Round House (P.S.) by Louise Erdrich
The Round House (P.S.)

Matthew Brophy, July 1, 2014

Forget the National Book Award for fiction! In a whodunnit investigation led by a thirteen- year-old son, this book rivals any detective novel you would consider for your summer reading. Louise Erdrich brings you to the borders of the tribal lands and Indian spirituality which confronts American jurisprudence and the righteousness of Christianity on matter of crimes of sex and murder in the mix of politics set in 1988. In the remnants of the foundation of Native culture, a young boy’s life is changed as a result of a work-related rape of his mother one Spring Sunday.

In this book, you will come to know and love the family and friends of Joe Coutts, as he discovers all the sordid details of his mother’s rape from his Hardy boys-like investigation. With so many questions of jurisdiction, a young man narrates the year of 1988 in his life, with a perspective after he has attained adulthood with his own law degree.

“The real attacker could still be in the area.”

Finding, knowing your place in the world with full-blood, mixed blood, it was Joe’s mother who made her living tracing the bloodlines of Indians. And so the plots around the limitations on adoption by law for non-Indian parents, Indian Child Welfare Acts, inter-marriage in a land where the white man cannot be brought to justice in tribal courts in a place where tribal law applies only to those who are Native American however so defined. And so the importance of PLACE in this story but always with the fragmentation, as the tribal judge tells his son, “We can’t prosecute [the rape] if we don’t know what law applies.”

The only way to know whether an Indian is an Indian is to look at that person’s history, not from a set of fingerprints, we learn from Joe. And living where the ground keeps shifting, the rapist “knows what we can and can’t do under our law, knows we can’t hold him,” says Joe’s father. And as a result, at the Round House as a place of worship, there is no accurate description near the changing frontiers of fee land and land held in tribal trust, about federal law, state law or tribal law over where the crime was committed. In THE ROUND HOUSE, Erdrich brings forth the Ojibwe Spirituality as real as yours or mine in the uprooted lives of the narrator’s family in a young man who longs for a past before the rape, when no one is gonna do anything, except maybe the Ojibwe ghosts who mean to help in a locale when the practice of Indian religion had been outlawed just ten years before this crime. There are secrets shared over great sums of money connected to a young man’s unbound lust until his sexual fantasy is uncovered. Feel the fear of a people forced into a boundary of their own lands, over FBI questioning, with so little power except from their own traditions, in a theme of what happens when a people lose complete trust in authorities to act, encroaching upon sovereign borders, in a place where the indigenous have been lynched without reprisal, not so long before. Erdrich builds the air of suspense on a place as real as the reservation belonging to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa so close to the Canadian border.
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The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
The Good Lord Bird

Matthew Brophy, December 13, 2013

In a novel that should live for the ages, James McBride has written through real life historical figures a story about an American spirit that came forth from the first generation of rootless people born after the American Revolution, like John Brown. The hero of the story is this terrorist John Brown, himself born after the genesis of these United States in the inheritance of revolution, but with so little reconstruction after the Revolutionary War. Using a narration from a twelve-year old slave freed by John Brown in another historic gun fight between pro-slavers and abolitionists, this fiction conveys through the power of dialogue recorded by a young narrator, the struggle in a new nation when what is perceived to be the Old World inheritance infringes on an “American” culture not yet agreed upon.

There are many layers to the identity struggle of the young twelve-year old narrator who sustains the lost relationship of a father caught in the middle of a gun battle between the man who owned him and John Brown. And so begins a story of freedom and exile, seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Onion carrying the mark of Cain. Onion, over and over, records the struggle in John Brown's crazy prayers, so much a part of the novel. You witness with the narrator the scenes of cowboys shooting up the opposition whenever they disagree with their new neighbors in Kansas-Missouri before traveling west to east, with the people born in the first creation of a nation, not so unlike the scenes found in the Book of Genesis in the days of Noah.

From out of innocence sacrificed, that Good Lord Bird icon conveys over time the spirit that reaches up and grabs the heroes in the story, and roots those wild people of action, like a tree, to the land. From reading about a time when the law of the land is unjust, feel the development of shared belief - if politics and religion are nothing except shared belief which somehow leads to a shared love - in the movement from west back east in order to unite a fragmented nation of the educated and uneducated, the thoughtless and the thoughtful, during a time when nothing ever came easy in regard to “belonging.” Over and over, the narrator Onion -- whose own existence was threatened by just knowing how to read and passing it on -- observes from the perspective of a child how a character is never heard from again. And once you start looking for meaning, as to who really belongs here, the land begin to grip the characters born into independence in their personal battles seen while living at a whorehouse -- of seemingly victimless crimes like drunkenness, lust, greed and unseen bondage -- white people with different measures of freedom finding roots in both their private and in their public lives. And so Onion, in arriving back East, sees the mystery of who is legal or illegal, over who is a slave and who is not, in Part IV in the buildup to Harper's Ferry, with a missing justice, surrounded by the imposition of weapons -- in a kind of baptism by fire -- and you should fear anyone who approaches you if you are Onion. In a story of uprising, there are rootless men living with their restlessness, and the same missing bonds are found at Harper's Ferry among the slaves in Onion's challenge to rouse them. And the last two pages of the book explain, as crazy John Brown attempts to re-create all over again a new nation, exactly how all of this spirit is passed along at Harper's Ferry so close to the heart of the original 13 colonies, in a prelude to the bloodbath of the destruction in civil war soon to delete the evil human law in the genesis of the United States, in the first American Creation. In a story of liberation, when you had for so long lived under a dominant power, when a past is always with you, McBride situates you near the unease so you do not ignore the sounds of discomfort -- hearing prayers so unlike my prayers -- about an incredible suffering, in language about the reality of the world and the silliness of who was better than whom. By the conclusion, McBride who writes lightly to get a serious attention, shows the land to be as much a character as the freed slave or the man John Brown, who the narrator and the reader have inexplicably come to love, from a distance. As Onion comes to find belief in the American spirit hidden in the title.
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(3 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)



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