I recently finished The Round House by Louise Erdrich, winner of last year’s National Book Award for fiction, and it is a novel worth reading. Like most of her work, the novel tells a story about Native Americans living on or near the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and she evokes the place extremely well, from the beauty of the land, to the challenges facing Native Americans.
The Round House concerns what happens to a family, and especially to the narrator, a 13-year-old boy, Joe, after his mother is brutally raped and set on fire. His father is a judge, a tribal judge, and the novel explores the difficulty in finding justice – the perpetrator is white and tribal police and courts cannot prosecute non-Native Americans, the rape took place near or in the Round House – a place for sacred ceremonies, or perhaps nearby on a strip of state park land, where Native Americans have no jurisdiction.
The book is part coming of age, part social criticism, part education about Native American culture. Joe’s grandfather, Mooshum, relates stories of how things came to be; there are comic characters and they all interact realistically and Joe, his father and mother, try to imagine how justice can be achieved, and how healing occurs after acts of violence. There are no easy answers here.
With recent news of the rapes in India and Steubenville, OH, the shootings in Newton, this is a timely book, about violence and power and how dignity can be achieved in the worst of situations.
Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson