13 March 2013

The Round House

by Louise Erdrich

Why did I read this book? My reasons are pretty simple, really. I am a woman, and therefore concerned about women’s issues in general, but especially crimes committed against women. I am a prosecutor, and my case load consists almost entirely of violent offenses and sex crimes. I work on an Indian reservation, so I’m woefully aware both of the brutality and injustice suffered by Indian women who are victims of violent crime, and of the technical stumbling blocks that often arise and sometimes prevent an offender from being held responsible.

I’ve read a couple reviews that compare this book to To Kill a Mockingbird, I suppose because it explains and embraces Native American culture in the same way that Mockingbird does for small-town Alabama. I can’t speak for how accurate that is because I didn’t grow up on a reservation, and in any event, I imagine that all reservations are different, the same way that all small Southern towns are different. I can tell you, though, that Erdrich knows her stuff. Her Indian Law assertions are right-on, and the way she describes tribal interaction with police officers and prosecutors who are “outsiders” is definitely consistent not only with what I’ve experienced, but also what has been shared with me by those who practice in other communities.

I am taking this plot synopsis from an Amazon.com review because I can never seem to synopsize without editorializing: “Our narrator - an Ojibwe lawyer named Joe Coutts - recalls his 13th summer from the perspective of time. Joe's position as the only child of tribal judge Bazil Coutts and tribal clerk Geraldine Coutts kept him feeling loved and secure until his mother is brutally and sadistically raped as she attempts to retrieve a potentially damning file. Although the rapist is rather quickly identified, the location of the rape--in the vicinity of a sacred round house - lies within that "no-man's land" where tribal courts are in charge and the neighboring Caucasians cannot be prosecuted, no matter how heinous the crime. Thrust into an adult world, Joe and his best friends Cappy, Zack and Angus are propelled to seek their own answers.”

I found this book to be both touching and uniquely effective in both entertaining and teaching. Moving, thoughtful, well-paced. The end is heartbreaking, and all too often absolutely within the realm of possibility.

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