The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

roundhouseLike much of Louise Erdrich’s work, The Round House is set on an American Indian reservation, exploring with realism, humour and depth the world of the contemporary Native American. Or, almost contemporary — The Round House is set in the 1980s. The narrator, 13-year-old Joe, is living a comfortable life as the son of a Bazil, a native judge and Geraldine, who is in charge of the tribal records office. When Geraldine is the victim of a brutal rape, she withdraws from her husband, son and community, refusing to talk about the crime. Despite her silence, it’s not long before everyone figures out who raped Geraldine — the more pressing question is whether the man can ever be prosecuted. The Round House points up the prevalence of rapes of Indian women by white men and the difficulty of bringing such cases to justice because of tangly questions of jurisdiction. On a more intimate level, though, it’s the story of a teenage boy coming of age in the context of a close-knit family and community, dealing with the trauma that strikes his family, and figuring out what “justice” looks like — which, in the world of this novel, doesn’t always mean following the letter of the law. I found this a compelling book, well-written as is always the case with Erdrich and, if not exactly enjoyable because of the painful subject matter, certainly powerful.

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