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Book review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a novel of fractured relationships

In The Round House, author Louise Erdrich creates a story that at first reads like a crime mystery but soon expands to envelope a gamut of emotions and a coming of age experience.

books Updated: Nov 22, 2017 19:39 IST
Sanchita Guha
Sanchita Guha
Hindustan Times
The Round House,Louise Erdrich,Native Americans
Cover of the book, In The Round House, by author Louise Erdrich.

Like other works by Louise Erdrich, the story of The Round House is rooted in the lives of Native Americans. These are not people living in conical tents and wielding battle axes. They are a ‘regular’ community in which teenagers talk about Star Trek and people drive to work. The story begins with a drive that a thirteen-year-old named Joe takes with his father, as they go looking for his mother, who’s taking longer than usual to get back home.

This is, perhaps, the most fateful drive of their lives. As they head for a grocery store, where they think the boy’s mother might be, they see her driving past – in the opposite direction, meaning homewards – at a furious speed. Following her home, they discover a terrible event, one that’ll change their lives forever. The mother, Geraldine, has been brutally raped, with a degree of violence that has left her utterly traumatised.

From here on, Joe’s world becomes a pre-occupation with getting justice, trying to understand what happened to his mother, and coming to terms with his own adolescent desire for an attractive older woman.

Cover of the book.

This is also where the illusion of Native Americans being absorbed into mainstream modern American society develops many cracks. Getting justice for Geraldine is that much more complicated because she is Native American and the perpetrator may be non-Native; and the place of crime may be outside tribal jurisdiction. The story also places practical tribal wisdom against the lenient attitude of urban law towards a certain class of crimes. Among Geraldine’s own people, what her rapist would get is death, for such a crime can only have such a punishment. But the courts of American law might see things differently.

The crime at the core of the story leaves Joe and his parents lacerated. Connecting with them means feeling some of their pain. That’s why this book can’t be called a mere page-turner – it’s not casual reading; it leaves a deep impression.

  • Title: The Round House
  • Author: Louise Erdrich
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Price: Rs 450

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First Published: Nov 22, 2017 19:25 IST