Saturday, July 20, 2013

344 (2013 #28). The Round House

by Louise Erdrich,
read by Gary Farmer

I can see why this book won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.  Besides being a well-written story, it highlights a major issue in Native American tribal law - the "difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations," according to author Louise Erdrich, who is Native American herself.

This story is set in 1988, and is told by Antone Bazil Coutts Jr. (known as Joe) as an adult, looking back on that spring and summer of his 13th year. 

At the beginning of the book, Joe's mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist, is violently raped.  She retreats into her bedroom and for a long time, won't talk about what happened.  Joe and his father, a tribal judge, discuss the case and try to determine who did it from previous case files.  Joe and his friends, Cappy, Angus, and Zack, do some exploring on their own and turn up more possible evidence.

Eventually Geraldine talks and it's clear who committed the crime.  It's also likely he murdered a young Native American girl and her baby.  The problem is, Geraldine can't remember exactly where she was raped.  It was near the sacred tribal round house, but it may have occurred on nearby state or federal land rather than on tribal lands.  This is important, because in 1988, a tribe could not prosecute non-tribal members who committed sex crimes within the boundaries of the reservation. The rapist looks like he's going to get away with it.

This evolving storyline is interspersed with tales of life on the reservation, and with Native American legends, the latter told mostly by Joe's grandfather Mooshum (who I understand was a character in Erdrich's earlier novel, A Plague of Doves).   There are many other interesting characters in the story as well, such as Sonya, the former stripper who lives with Joe's uncle; Father Trevor, the Catholic priest, and Linda Wishkob, a white woman adopted into a Native American family.

The story is suspenseful and the characters are fascinating, which kept me going despite a slow reading with unusual pauses by Native American actor Gary Farmer.  On the plus side for the audiobook, the print version of Erdrich's novel doesn't use quotation marks around speech, and Farmer's narration helps make it clear when a character is speaking.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and interlibrary loan, respectively.]

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