, July 01, 2014
(view all comments by Matthew Brophy)
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.