National Book Award, Fiction, 2012
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and 13-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Written with undeniable urgency, and illuminating the harsh realities of contemporary life in a community where Ojibwe and white live uneasily together, The Round House is a brilliant and entertaining novel, a masterpiece of literary fiction. Louise Erdrich embraces tragedy, the comic, a spirit world very much present in the lives of her all-too-human characters, and a tale of injustice that is, unfortunately, an authentic reflection of what happens in our own world today.
©2012 Louise Erdrich (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers
I purchased this novel because I saw the title on quite a few lists of the best books of 2012 and I wasn't disappointed in the least. It's a coming-of-age story at the centre of First Nation history, reservation life, Indian mythology, family, a horrendous crime and so much more. Wonderful, a 'do not miss' novel. I had some trouble with the narrator at first but became accustomed to his style. I could have listened to hours more.
This book has been heavy in my head. Had I written a knee-jerk review 3 days ago from that thick head, I would have misinformed you. I hadn't synthesized the weight of all that is between the words: the legend and mythology that give eloquence to the silly ramblings of an old sleeping man; the traditions that guided the daily activities of the Native American characters; the history of duplicity that corralled a people into reservations and snuffed out their cultural identity. Heavy in my head because this book is structured so beautifully that much of it speaks to us from the spaces between the words--a language we grasp in our core consciousness. Now translated...the story is heavy in my heart.
The *Heads I win, Tails you lose* treaties that made a story like this possible, (virtually creating a Free Rape Zone) are in the words of this story's narrator, "a gut kick," that compounds an already tragic event. The characters are vividly written and fondly familiar as a family member or good neighbor. Especially compelling is the young Joe. (The story is recalled by an older Joe.) The violent hate crime perpetrated against his mother skins him of his innocence and naivete, catapulting him prematurely into a foreign adult world. His group of friends, their teenage rites of passages and proclivities, tentatively anchor him to his youthful life, and reminded me of the group of friends in Stand By Me (The Body).
There are many themes in this intricate and tense novel, some rooted generations deep. (Reading Native American literature sometimes makes me feel like a person with the same surname as a horrendous criminal must feel each time the name is broadcast.) Erdrich writing is stunning - almost painfully beautiful as she combines the contrasting elements that make up this profound story. I would say more profound, because of her craftsmanship, than *depresssing*...one of the words in reviews that kept me from listening before...
I have considered this book since it was published and passed for different reasons. The asides, or the stories told by the elders of the tribes, may seem like irrelevant ramblings, humorous or raunchy stories. Look passed the old Mooshum's dream-talking, and the aunts and grandmothers intent on embarassing the young boys with their youthful recollections--these stories are crucial to the heart of this story--they are the history, the scripture, the culture ties, the logic, and cleverly placed by Erdrich to keep the suspense in the forefront while adding perspective. Addressing the narrator: Gary Farmer is a Native American that has many acting credits and obviously has experience with script. His reading hit me as authentic rather than disruptive and added a necessary discomfort to the rhythm of words--because they should be a little uncomfortable in this context, and the story should sit heavy in our hearts.
I read that this novel is the middle of a trilogy (the first volume being Plague of Doves). I love finding an author that is new to me and I can't wait to read everything Erdrich has written. Very deserving of the the National Book Award.
Difficult to say -- This is a long string of vignettes, many of which are brilliant and made better by the excellent narrator. I listen during commuting and as such, didn't feel that the story was done justice by my split attention between driving and listening. This is a book better listened to with full attention. There are too many subtle gems to miss.
The interplay between native American assimilation and independence -- always in tension and a contrast that was always illuminating.
Cadence, tone, and intonation. This was a story made to be read by Farmer.
It made me feel. It was raw and beautiful.
As I mentioned, this is a book to listened to as narrated by Farmer. Wouldn't have been nearly as special to have read this book. Just don't listen while distracted. Do yourself a favor and listen with intention.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
For me, this novel was about as close to perfect as contemporary fiction gets. It's beautifully written, well-voiced, full of memorable characters, and a rich snapshot of life on a North Dakota Indian reservation in the late 1980s. The narrator, Joe, is a grown man remembering a few life-shaping months of his early teens. The book begins with Joe and his father, a reservation judge, coming upon Joe's mother, who has just been assaulted and raped. The situation soon grows in complexity -- Geraldine takes to her bed and can't (or won't) recall who attacked her, and because the attack occurred somewhere close to the reservation boundary, it's unclear whose legal jurisdiction it falls into.
With his mother in legal and emotional limbo, and the police seemingly disinterested, the young Joe takes it on himself to solve the crime, though he proceeds in a typically fumbling, distractible adolescent manner. What follows is a story that's a lot of things at once. It's a mystery, a coming-of-age story, a drama of family and best friends, and a reflection on the history of a people struggling to maintain control of their own laws and culture within the larger framework of American society and its systems. Through Joe's young eyes, we come to grasp the weight of a complex past on the present day. I was in awe of the subtle purity with which Erdrich makes these separate pieces connect, ultimately bringing her protagonist towards terms with his reality and his identity.
As I said, the characters are wonderful. There's Joe's soft-spoken, intelligent father, Bazil. There's Joe's best friend, Cappy, the boy we all remember from adolescence who seemed to be a step ahead of us in confidence and experience, if not always wisdom. There's an ex-Marine priest, who has a singularly painful reason for choosing his vocation. There's an old man whose nocturnal tales confuse (or perhaps not) real events and tribal mythology. There's one of the dirtiest-minded old grandmas I've ever encountered in fiction. Erdrich's craft as a writer is such that I felt that I knew these people well and could picture their backstories and relationships within a couple pages of meeting them. (If I have a complaint at all, it's that the villain's pretty one-dimensional, but that wasn’t a big issue for me.)
The central, recurring theme in The Round House is that of overlapping worlds. I knew I was in love with the writing a few chapters in, when Joe explains Star Trek: the Next Generation from the perspective of reservation boys. In this personal way, Erdrich explores several other blurred boundaries, such as that between the Indian world and the white world, the way both Christian and native beliefs have personal meaning, the difficult crossing between childhood and the adult world, and the conflict between personal justice and the importance of rational, impartial law. I loved the way she brought these separate threads together in the raw, but beautifully symbolic final chapters. This is the novel that many aspiring writers attend MFA programs in search of, but few pull off.
To me, Gary Farmer did a good job with the audiobook narration, though some listeners might find the halting intonation of his Native American accent a little reminiscent of William Shatner. The only other book of Erdrich's I've read before was A Plague of Doves; while it was good, this is the one to start with.
Don't give up on the narrator--the story itself is well worth listening to, and the narration improves slowly as the story builds, especially in the second half. I found the book to be excellent, the storyline exciting and fascinating, and the characters well-drawn. The story is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old native American boy, which is quite a feat for a 58-year-old woman writer, and she pulls it off beautifully. The narrator is apparently an American Indian actor, but he is so unskilled at narrating that I almost gave up on the book at first. He does the strangest things with sentences, often coming full-stop after the verb, and seeming to start a new sentence (as in, "He laid his bike against the fence. Before he went into the woods.") His inflection is all over the map, oftentimes obscuring the meaning of the words he's reading. (Didn't he practice ahead of time, one wonders?) As the story builds in intensity, however, the narrator seems to fall into a more normal inflection pattern, and contributes to the excitement of the story instead of detracting from it, as he does in the first half of the book. In any case, the story is so compelling that I stuck with it, and was so glad I did...even gasping and weeping a few times. Thank you, Louise Erdrich.
Yes. The voice grows on you, with its reservation pauses and pronunciations. The story spirals through time, with details in its diversions that will take more than one listen to catch.
Not a book, but a Joni Mitchell song--Cherokee Louise
Cappy, because he'd be good company and easy on the eye, from what I hear
A coming of age story for a young indian boy who has to come to grips with his culture and the larger world around him. A little bit mystery, a lot of culture, and intriguing look into a part of US history, family and the future.
This is not your "everyday" mystery and if your looking for John Grisham or some other plot heavy, thinly written book you may not be happy. However, if you like to step outside the usual mystery box this might be the ticket.
Be forwared: listen to the narrator online first as he is clearly Indian with the cadences and nuances that go with this style of communication. But if you like Mark Hammer, your are in like Flynn.
The reader is perfect, just what the story needs, the voice of a native American. This book has all of Erdrich's best qualities: story, passion, mystery, humor, caritas. I will read it again & again.
I felt that this was a most satisfying audible book, not just because it's a great book, but because First Nations member, Gary Farmer, was the perfect choice to narrate this book. Sometimes the narration gets in the way when it isn't spot on, but Gary Farmer adds so much to this book that I'm really pleased I chose to listen to this book instead of reading it.
This was a wonderful book, so complex and heartfelt. The comparisons to "To Kill a Mockingbird" are apt in that a young boy learns about his life and his family through experiencing a crime. His father is a judge on a Native American reservation.
Well deserving of the National Book Award.
The reader is a Native American actor, I think, which is great, because he speaks with a cadence that is distinctly from that cultural background. The reason it takes getting used to is that this sort of cadence puts emphases on other parts of the sentence than we are used to hearing from other actors who read audiobooks. It was odd at first, but after getting used to the style, I really enjoyed his performance and I think it added a needed authenticity.
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