The Round House By Louise Erdich
Reviewed by Monica Brown
The Round House is set in the year 1988 on an Indian reservation in North Dakota. The reservation is seen in an unfiltered light; a tangle of Indian housing, tribal police and questions of where their jurisdiction lies, the local gas station, the catholic church and stories of the old days. In the midst are 13 year-old Joe, Joe’s father Bazil, a tribal court judge and his mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist.
The story is told through the eyes of Joe who is now grown and is remembering back to 1988. Joe brings us back to the memory of when his mother was attacked and brutally raped and how the act was so infiltrating that it threatened to rip his world apart.
While his mother retreats into darkness and shuts the world out, Bazil begins reading old court files in hopes of gleaming something useful. Joe becomes restless and sets out for information with his friends; Cappy, Angus and Zack. The boys become immersed in a world that deals heavily with the boundaries of law, spirituality and the bonds between families and friends.
As Joe goes about in his nonchalant way seeking the truth, he questions his father and challenges him on being not just a good husband to Geraldine, but a good judge. Bazil explains to Joe and reminds him of the laws that are in place which will make this an extremely difficult case if the attacker is even found.
“…this one is the one I’d abolish right this minute if I had the power of a movie shaman. Oliphant V. Suquamish…took from us the right to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on our land.” Says Bazil to Joe in order to reason why it doesn’t just matter if they find who did it, what matters is where it happened.
Once you know something so inhumane, it is as Joe says “a poison in you”. In other places around the world where justice can be handed out, this sort of crime still leaves a gap in the lives of all it touches but to not be able to seek justice can leave a wound which may never heal.
Even though the story is heavy with dialogue and lacks quotations it is still an impressive and deliberate account. Louise Erdrich paints very clearly the internal and external struggle which resides with every indigenous person whether the seek it out or try to ignore it. The book is loosely based on actual events and reveals actual laws that are in place today. The Round House was published in October of 2012 and was selected as the winner in the fiction category for the 2012 National Book Award.
Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, wrote this story to bring to light “the tangles of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations”. With The Violence against Women Act being rewritten and the Idle No More movement spreading across the globe this book could not have been released at a more appropriate time.