Saturday, December 14, 2013
Book Report: The Round House
My friend texted me: Read The Round House. So I did. And I loved it. Here's why.
Louise Erdrich's coming of age story about a Native American boy (Joe) growing up on a reservation in North Dakota won the National Book Award so you know it's a good bet. The boy's father is a judge on "the rez." He's basically a Native American Atticus Finch. The boy's mom is brutally attacked and the book tells about the investigation and prosecution of the crime from Joe's point of view. (There's plenty of teenage-boy coming of age stuff, but not so much as to completely gross you out.)
I would like to explain what I loved about this book and I don't want to sound racist. So let me just say that I think politically correct things about Native Americans. I'm not a jerk or anything and I don't think I'm better because I'm white. But I've never been that interested in Native American culture. I just didn't "get it" and it seemed very other from myself.
Reading this book so immersed me in the culture and traditions of the Ojibwe tribe with such empathy and understanding and interest and good writing that all of it—from teepees to peace pipes—seemed viable to me. I don't want to say it made me respect Native Americans, because I did respect them before. But it expanded my understanding and compassion in a way that, save for spending time on an actual reservation, only books can. That's why literature is good. That is how it works. You think you couldn't care less about wizards. You might even think wizards are weirdos. Then you read Harry Potter.
In The Round House, Joe's father faces jurisdiction limitations because he is a tribal judge. There is a discrepancy about where the crime against his wife took place, so even though he is wise and good and powerful, he can't prosecute. Joe discovers that his dad deals in petty cases, and he's disappointed. But the dad explains that every small decision and precedent he sets is working towards an expansion of the power of tribal judges. He's working in his way toward equality. That's just one element of the story.
There's a lot going on in the rez community, which consists of several multi-generational families. Joe and his buddies are always hungry and they make decisions about where to go and how to spend their day based on where they can get food. As a mother of a 16-year-old boy, that rang true. It all rings true.
It's a story that will stay with you. It will also dash your dreams of becoming a writer. With books like this around, why not just read?