Thursday, November 15, 2012

Terrific news! Louise Erdrich's THE ROUND HOUSE won the 2012 National Book Award

Last night (November 14, 2012), Louise Erdrich's The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award in the fiction category for the adult market, but it will be one of those crossover books, read widely by young adults. 

The story Erdrich tells is a difficult one. 

Geraldine Coutts, thirteen-year-old Joe's mother, is raped. Joe is the narrator. The novel is set in North Dakota in 1988. We meet Joe and his father on the first page. They're outside, working. Turning to the next page, Joe goes inside to his father's study (his dad is a tribal judge):
I took out the law book my father called The Bible. Felix S. Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law. It had been given to my father by his father; the rust red binding was scraped, the long spine cracked, and every page bore handwritten comments. I was trying to get used to the old-fashioned language and constant footnotes. Either my father or my grandfather had placed an exclamation point on page 38, beside the italicized case, which had naturally interested me also: United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey. I suppose one of them had thought that title was ridiculous, as I did. Nevertheless, I was parsing out the idea, established in other cases and reinforced in this one, that our treaties with the government were like treaties with foreign nations. That the grandeur and power my Mooshum talked about wasn't entirely lost, as it was, at least to some degree I meant to know, still protected by the law.  
That passage is a peek into what readers will find in The Round House. Erdrich gives us a story that has--at its heart--Native Nations, treaties, injustice, and, perseverance. In an interview at the National Book Award website, Erdrich said:
The immense difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations has haunted me for many years, but I didn't know how to tell the story. I wanted to write it as a suspense novel. How else to include jurisdictional complexity? I didn't want to bore myself. When my main character, Joe, started talking, I knew I had been waiting for him. A writer's gift. Even now I miss writing in his voice and miss working on this book.
In its October 10, 2012 article on The Round House being listed as a finalist for the award, Indian Country Today wrote:
Erdrich's story, though fictional, is especially timely considering recent news about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and revelations of rampant sexual abuse on at least one reserve.
Erdrich was on NPR a few weeks ago and read from The Round House

A bonus for those of you who prefer audiobooks to print...  The person who recorded the audiobook is Gary Farmer (Cayuga). He's an actor, musician, activist, and filmmaker. You can listen to an excerpt here: The Round House read by Gary Farmer


Get a signed copy of The Round House from 
Erdrich's bookstore, Birchbark Books. 


If you want to read more about The Round House, the store has compiled links to video, audio, and print interviews. Some librarians and teachers may find the story inappropriate for your patrons and students. If that's the case, I still recommend that you read it yourself. It will make you better able to discern the good from the mediocre or bad in terms of how Native people are portrayed in literature for adults, teens, or children. 

1 comment:

franceylibrarian said...

Looks like a must-buy for us! Thanks for the review -