The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a treasure of a read. I grew up in Ontario but have lived most of my adult life in British Columbia. We were never taught indigenous, First Nation or Inuit history in lower and high school and although I went on to study history, I focused on Middle Eastern and American studies. Today, of course, I am much more aware of the sad history of my country and its first people and the more I learn the more horrified I am at the continued injustices that permeate our governance structure.
The Round House is a coming of age story that is told from the perspective of 13 year Joe Coutts, who grows up on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Set in 1988, the novel offers a glimpse of a young boy on the cusp of manhood, who over the course of a few months, avenges the horrifying rape of his mother. The tragedy drives the action in the novel but in many ways is a backdrop to the delightful cast of characters who live on the reserve with Joe including his close circle of friends Cappy, Zack and Angus. Joe’s father, Bazil is a judge and after the assault begins to share details of other criminal cases with his son. Joe and his friends become embroiled in solving the crime and in so doing, come to an understanding that the complex legal system and land issues could let the perpetrator go free.
While the story is dark, it is a beautiful evocation of the complexities that have resulted from stealing indigenous land and creating reserves. It’s a coming of age story that is oddly funny, incredibly tragic with writing that captures the beauty of people at one with the natural world and the characters that fuel generational mythology. So happy I found this book and want to thank my book fairy Cynthia for pressing this into my hands and saying “Read it. Read it.”