CultureWatch: A Review of Louise Erdrich's The Round House
THE ROUND HOUSE
by Louise Erdrich
Published by Harper Collins Books, ©2012; 321 pages
Fans of Louise Erdrich, and (full disclosure) I count myself among them, will be pleased to discover that she has given us a worthy addition to her impressive body of work. Ms. Erdrich has produced poetry, short stories, and children’s books, as well as thirteen (13!) earlier novels.
The list of awards and honors she has received in the past thirty years is so long that in the interest of saving space, I’ll simply note that The Round House received the National Book Award in 2012, an award well-earned.
Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa (also called Ojibway), a tribe of Native Americans that inhabits areas and/or reservations scattered along the border between the United States and Canada, stretching west from Ohio through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, to North Dakota and north into Ontario, Canada. Her books reflect her heritage, but beyond that, they introduce the reader to some of the complex relationships between Native Americans and the populations of towns that surround them.
Make no mistake: the books are not polemics in defense of “the noble savage.” While Erdrich affords us a clear-eyed look into the prejudices and arrogance of many of her characters, she has a firm grip on universal values that pertain to people of every culture. Her stories involve human beings, not stereotypes, and open our hearts to many possibilities heretofore unthought-of.
At the same time, they offer to a reader a true glimpse into some of the things with which Native Americans must cope, whether on the reservation or living outside its borders. Along with recognition of problems like alcoholism and poverty, we are introduced to the dichotomy of modern life and ancient traditions and ceremonies.
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