The Brown Baggers book club read The Round House by Louise Erdrich for November. This novel won the National Book Award winner for fiction in 2012 and Erdrich has won numerous awards for her various works.
Set on a fictional Indian Reservation in North Dakota, The Round House is a coming of age story that centers on a crime story. The story is narrated by Joe Coutts, who is looking back at his time as a thirteen year old boy during the summer when a violent crime was committed against his mother. The novel showcases the problems with the justice system between the Indian Reservation and the state government. Joe learns that justice can be hard to obtain, especially when the jurisdiction on where to prosecute the crime is not clear. One of the main characters, Joe’s father, Antone Bazil Coutts, is a tribal judge and is also featured in Erdrich’s 2008 book The Plague of Doves. Bazil knows that the conviction of the crime is complicated by jurisdictional rules and he explains this to his son as they try to cope with what has happened. We recognize that Joe has a need for vengeance especially when the conviction takes too long and he sees the defendant walking around town instead locked up in jail.
So, what did the readers think about this book? Generally, they really enjoyed the book, loved the main characters, and thought the supporting characters were very likeable. Other readers pointed out that for a book with such a heavy theme there were some hilarious stories interjected by characters. Some readers shared their experiences of visiting Indian Reservations and the differences between cultures. Members of the book group also brought up parallels between the confusion of who had jurisdiction over the crime in the story to the current construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and jurisdiction over the land that it will go through.
From NPR: In ‘House,’ Erdrich Sets Revenge on a Reservation
From PBS: Conversation: Louise Erdrich on her New Novel, ‘The Round House’
From BookPage: Louise Erdrich- The Heartbreaking Toll of Revenge
Other Erdrich Works
Erdrich has written numerous novels, as well as poetry, non-fiction, and children’s literature. Her most recent novel is LaRose which was published this year. LaRose takes place in the same setting as The Round House.
Other topics to think about:
Dakota Access Pipeline Protests covered by Time
Tribal Justice and the prosecution of non-Natives for sexual assault on Reservations by PBS Newshour
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013
Brown Baggers will meet again on December 15 to select the books to be read for the upcoming months.