Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
by Louise Erdrich

Harper Perennial; Sept. 24, 2013 (Original pub. Oct. 2012)
Paperback; 368 pages
Source: TLC Book Tours

Joe is a thirteen-year-old boy growing up on a reservation in North Dakota. Like many boys his age, his main concerns are hanging out with his friends, sneaking beers, and lusting after girls. However, everything changes when his mother, Geraldine, is brutally raped and just barely escapes a gruesome death.

Joe finds his mother deeply changed after the attack. She withdraws to her room and ceases to be the woman Joe knew as his mother. Despite repeated prodding, Geraldine can’t or won’t reveal anything about her attack; she doesn’t know where it happened or who assaulted her.

Joe’s father, Antone, is a tribal judge, but his position does little to attain justice for Geraldine. As if tribal law in 1988 isn’t complex enough, Geraldine’s inability to state where she was attacked creates an impossible complication. She may have been attacked on the reservation, in which case tribal law would apply; however, the prime suspect is a white man, and tribal courts can’t persecute people outside the tribe. Alternately, she may have been attacked on a strip of state park land, in North Dakota’s jurisdiction. Or the attack could have happened on “fee land” sold by the tribe, the jurisdiction of which is complicated. So because all of these pieces of land intersect each other and Geraldine doesn’t know the exact location of her assault, it’s impossible to know which governing body should try her case.

Desperate and furious, Joe sets out with his friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus to solve the mystery of his mother’s assault and take justice into his own hands.

This is a devastating book on many levels. At the most basic level, Erdrich puts us right into the head of a thirteen-year-old boy who is watching his mother lose herself after being raped and narrowly escaping murder. At the same time, this book is an indictment of the poor legal systems native tribes are forced to operate under. It was terrible to read some of the cases Joe learns about from his father. The idea that someone from outside the tribe could come onto the reservation and rape a woman with zero possibility of consequences… it’s horrifying. That tribal courts have no jurisdiction over non-tribal members who commit crimes on tribal land is almost unimaginable — but it’s the reality, and it’s still an issue today.

There are a few other really awful moments in this book that I won’t discuss because of spoilers, but I will say that that they are shocking. The ending packed a huge emotional punch that I didn’t see coming; I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it wrecked me for a few moments.

I didn’t love this novel for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, but I did really like it and think it was a very good book. Erdrich obviously did a lot of research, and it was eye-opening to read a book highlighting issues of justice on Indian reservations. I also enjoyed reading the perspective of Joe, a young boy forced to grow up too quickly, who is struggling to understand the motivations and decisions of the adults around him. His relationships with his friends seemed spot-on, and I love a good coming-of-age story — even if this one is so full of tragedy. All in all, a very good book that made me feel many feels.

The Round House won the National Book Award in 2012, and it recently came out in paperback. The new cover design is stunning, and the book features interviews with the author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

TLC Book Tours


19 thoughts on “Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

  1. Holy smokes, that cover is amazing!

    I tried reading this one a few months ago and couldn’t make it through, but maybe I’ll have to give it another shot. Great review!

  2. This is the first book by Louise Erdrich I’ve read and it definitely makes me want to read more. The good news is that the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act does now allow non-tribal abusers to be tried in tribal court. Louise Erdrich was active in advocating for the new law.

  3. I really liked this book, too. It’s hard to say I “loved” it when it involves such awful subject matter, but it was so well written and the story was great. This was the first book I’ve read of Erdrich’s and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of her backlist at some point. Great review.

  4. Wow, this sounds like a tough read! I typically avoid books that I know have difficult subjects like this. Although I enjoy learning from non-fiction, I typically read fiction to relax and prefer things that will leave me feeling happy when I’m done 🙂

  5. Pingback: Louise Erdrich, author of The Round House, on tour September/October 2013 | TLC Book Tours

  6. Leah, I almost bought this the other day, because I love Erdrich’s writing. I’m so glad I didn’t now that I know it’s the second in a series. I’ll bet there is something there that makes the second more loveable, despite the ugliness of its subject matter.

    • It’s interesting because I didn’t feel like I was missing anything; this book stands on its own really well. I wonder, though, how differently I would have perceived it if I had read the first book.

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