The Round House

By Louise Erdrich

(HarperCollins, $27.99, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

I am always amazed and saddened when I mention to readers my admiration for novelist Louise Erdrich and hear that they have never heard of her. That is their loss, because Erdrich is without doubt one of the finest American novelists writing today. The author of 14 novels, as well as non-fiction, short stories, poetry and children’s books, she draws deeply on her Chippewa and German heritage to create interconnected characters.  Erdrich lives in Minnesota, where she owns an independent bookstore, but sets most of her work in North Dakota, where she grew up.  Known best for such novels as “Love Medicine,” “The Beet Queen,” Tracks” and “The Plague of Doves,” she has created over 30 years a world of full- and mixed-breed people who appear and reappear in her fiction as the stories move backwards and forward in time. “The Round House” has just been nominated for a National Book Award in the fiction category.

What is this book about?

It’s 1988 and Joe, a teenager who lives on an Ojibwe reservation in North Darkota, finds his world shattered when his mother, Geraldine, is brutally attacked and raped. Driven deep into depression by this near-murder, she refuses to engage with the world, leaving Joe, and her husband Bazil, who is a tribal judge, to seek justice for her. That’s not easy: there are questions of jurisdiction centering on whether she was attacked on tribal, state or federal property and issues of race – was the assailant white or Ojibwe? Joe, frustrated beyond measure, finds himself relying on his three friends to seek revenge, a risky and reckless business with unforeseen results. Reviewers are likening this book to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for its brilliantly drawn young characters and the harsh realities of law enforcement hampered by prejudice that protect the white world.

Why you’ll like it:

Erdrich’s stories are vivid, sometimes shocking and often heartbreaking, yet they also thrum with humor that is often ribald and above all they have exquisite lyrical beauty. She creates characters – particularly women – who are so real, so vital, that you sometimes feel you have stepped into an ever-expanding alternate universe. You can enter her world through any of her novels, and I predict that readers who begin with “The Round House” will find that one Erdrich novel is never enough.

What others are saying:

“Erdrich, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, sets her newest  in 1988 in an Ojibwe community in North Dakota; the story pulses with urgency as she probes the moral and legal ramifications of a terrible act of violence. As Geraldine becomes enveloped by depression, her husband, Bazil (the tribal judge), and their 13-year-old son, Joe, try desperately to identify her assailant and bring him to justice. The teen quickly grows frustrated with the slow pace of the law, so Joe and three friends take matters into their own hands. But revenge exacts a tragic price, and Joe is jarringly ushered into an adult realm of anguished guilt and ineffable sadness. Through Joe’s narration, which is by turns raunchy and emotionally immediate, Erdrich perceptively chronicles the attack’s disastrous effect on the family’s domestic life, their community, and Joe’s own premature introduction to a violent world,” says Publishers Weekly.

“Likely to be dubbed the Native American “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Louise Erdrich’s moving, complex, and surprisingly uplifting new novel tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother. Drawn from real-life statistics about racially inspired attacks on our country’s reservations, this tale is forceful but never preachy, thanks in large part to Erdrich’s understated but glorious prose and her apparent belief in the redemptive power of storytelling,” says Sara Nelson on

“A gripping mystery with a moral twist: Revenge might be the harshest punishment, but only for the victims. A-,” says Entertainment Weekly.

“Erdrich threads a gripping mystery and multilayered portrait of a community through a deeply affecting coming-of-age novel,” says Karen Holt in O, the Oprah Magazine.

Library Journal says:

“Set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988, Erdrich’s 14th novel focuses on 13-year-old Joseph. After his mother is brutally raped yet refuses to speak about the experience, Joe must not only cope with her slow physical and mental recovery but also confront his own feelings of anger and helplessness. … Erdrich skillfully makes Joe’s coming-of-age both universal and specific. Like many a teenage boy, he sneaks beer with his buddies, watches Star Trek: The Next Generation, and obsesses about sex. But the story is also ripe with detail about reservation life, and with her rich cast of characters, from Joe’s alcoholic and sometimes violent uncle Whitey and his former-stripper girlfriend Sonja, to the ex-marine priest Father Travis and the gleefully lewd Grandma Thunder, Erdrich provides flavor, humor, and depth.” 

When is it available?

“The Round House” can be found at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Camp Field, Dwight and Mark Twain branches.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.