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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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(4.5 stars) Author Louise Erdrich, a member of the Chippewa (Ojibwa) nation, here writes one of her most powerful and emotionally involving novels. Though it starts as a crime story on the reservation, it quickly becomes an intense search for justice on all levels. It is also an examination of the lives of her characters, both old and young, as they face the challenges of reservation life. Their lives, as she shows in this novel, are seriously restricted by 1988, when this novel's action takes place, and any Native American who wants to honor the "old ways" on the reservation must now survive on infertile lands which cannot support them. Their culture has been seriously compromised by the arrival of Catholic missionaries who have weaned them away from their myths and traditions. Significantly, legal jurisdiction over crimes involving Native Americans now involves tribal officials, state police, and even the FBI.

In a powerful opening scene, filled with symbols and portents, thirteen-year-old Antone Basil Coutts (Joe), only child and namesake of Judge Coutts and his wife Geraldine, is helping his father to pull tiny seedlings from cracks in the foundation of their house, awaiting Geraldine's return from her office. When she finally arrives at home, she is almost unrecognizable, so badly beaten she can hardly see, reeking of gasoline and so traumatized by rape and other crimes that she has become mute. Young Joe knows that it will be up to him and his father to identify who has done this. They begin to study his father's old cases searching clues.

Joe is still a child, however, and though his empathetic father wants to protect him as much as possible, Joe becomes obsessed with getting his mother "back," determined to find and punish the rapist on his own. These tensions add drama and meaning to the novel, and Joe's contacts with others, both in his family and outside it, expand the scope. The sweat lodge ceremony is described, the extortion of elderly Indians by a white-owned supermarket on Indian land is detailed, the raucous and sexy (and hilarious) talk of elderly family members is recorded, the "flirting" of a stripper living with Joe's uncle is tension-filled and emotional, the appearance of ghosts to Joe, and the efforts of a local priest, a former soldier injured in Lebanon in 1983, are all described to powerful effect, keeping the interest and involvement of the reader at high pitch.

As in her other novels, Erdrich provides a sense of continuity by including characters from other books in this one - including the priestly Nanapush (from Tracks), who was an inspiration to Mooshum, thought now to be one hundred six years old in this novel. Mooshum, whose story is told here, was also a main character in The Plague of Doves, a book which also includes Judge Antone Basil Coutts, father of this novel's main character Joe, and Corwin Peace, father of Joe's friend Zach. By repeating these characters through successive generations, Erdrich provides a genealogy and sense of history which add to the sense of time and place, and highlight the changes, not all of them good, taking place within the community. The novel, one of Erdrich's best, will keep serious readers totally engaged with its sensitive descriptions and insights, even as those interested in just a "good story" will celebrate the action, excitement, and the issues it raises.
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on 24 April 2017
Very similar to 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' which is a well deserved classic, so apart from feeling it was a bit too similar, I really enjoyed it.
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"Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds." -- Habakkuk 1:4 (NKJV)

Be careful what you read about this book. I originally decided against reading it based on reviews I had seen. Well, those reviews were describing a book quite different from the one that I just finished reading, a book well worth my time and attention.

While many people like to think of the law as a nearly perfect system for administering justice, it can be more like Swiss cheese in terms of how many holes wrongdoers can wriggle through. In The Round House, Ms. Erdrich combines the intellectual power of law review hypothetical with the awful pain experienced from being physically violated and left in fear, as well as a coming-of-age story that you'll remember as long as you will Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I thought the description of how Native American legal sovereignty is being built was worth the price of the book, alone.

So what's it all about? A brutal crime occurs and little progress is made in solving it. Yet the family that's affected is virtually brought to its knees. The husband and son in their own ways seek justice. The contrast in their approaches makes for fascinating discussions ... making this a remarkable book club choice.

I can't go into more, but the resolution of who did what to whom is used to tell a more universal story about what it's like to be human and how evil threatens those who are not fully on guard.

I won't say "enjoy" because it's not that kind of book. It more of a "think" book.

Brava, Ms. Erdrich!
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I'd only vaguely heard of Lousie Erdrich before coming to this book but have now found out that she is an acclaimed writer of books featuring Native Americans and is enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

The Round House is a very well-written book from an obviously mature writer. You don't get to be this good a writer overnight and Erdrich's previous dozen or so novels have born fruit in this complex novel about a Native American boy on the cusp of manhood grappling with a terrible violation of his mother Geraldine by an anonymous stranger.

The book opens one Sunday in 1988 when Joe's mother fails to return home in time to make the dinner. Joe and his father go out in the car to look for her and after a few visits to places she might be, they suddenly see her speeding towards them in the other direction, "riveted, driving over the speed limits, anxious to get back home to us".

When Joe and his father have turned round and arrived home they find Geraldine in a terrible state, vomit down the front of her dress, and her dark blood soaking the car seat. She has been raped. They rush her to hospital but she is unable to talk about what happened to her, either to her family or to the police, a silence which continues long after she returns home. Geraldine is so traumatised that she takes to her bed and retreats into herself, refusing to talk to anyone and spending much of the day either sleeping or pretending to be asleep.

Joe's father Bazil is a judge, and Joe has always looked up to him, respectful of his place in the community. But while Bazil tries hard to get to grips with his wife's condition, nothing seems to penetrate her psychic isolation. Joe is on the cusp of manhood and begins to feel frustrated by his father's impotence, and also discovers that the great man he looked up to all his life, is in fact a judge of very petty cases, anything more serious being referred upwards away from the Reservation court system to the Federal courts. So Joe, together with his three best friends tries to investigate what happens for himself.

The book tells us much about Reservation Life. We read of a very communal life, with aunties and uncles, aged grandparents and a network of inter-related friends and other family. One fascinating section tells of a "sweat lodge" which is created by a local shaman to hold tribal ceremonies in which sacred pipes and medicines are used and special prayer requests are dealt with.

The tribal community is still awash with mythical beliefs. Ghosts haunt the local cemetery and charms can bring good luck. Legends and rituals abound and provide a backdrop of meaning to the complexities of a hybrid life in which children play computer games and adults have to make their way in the modern world while holding to tribal values.

I really can't fault this book. It's very well-written and has complex plotting with many inter-linking themes. I certainly closed the last page knowing far more about how Native Americans live while also having been entertained by a very wide-ranging and unusual cast of characters.
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This was my first encounter with Louise Erdrich's writing and it was, for the most part, an extremely rewarding experience. It can be read on many different levels as, on the surface, it's a coming of age story but look a little deeper and there are insights into the nature of justice, cultural identity and family relationships.

Our narrator, Joe, has had to grow up very quickly after the horrific rape of his mother. Following this brutal attack she retreats into her own world and Joe thinks finding the attacker is the only way he can bring her back from this limbo. It will be difficult to bring her assailant to justice due to the legislative difficulty in prosecuting crimes committed by non-Natives on Native American territory. Erdrich highlights the plight of Native American female rape victims, 86% of whom have non-Native assailants and very few are prosecuted.

Yes, there is a political agenda but the story of Joe and his gang of friends has great charm and warmth. You get a glimpse of Native American culture via a cast of vibrant, engaging characters. Admittedly the narrative has its meandering moments but stick with it and your attentive reading will be rewarded. Looking forward to catching up on many other gems from this author.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 December 2013
This is such a sad book in many ways - a thirteen-year-old must cope with the knowledge of his mother's violent rape and see her struggling to live with the events. Reservation-dwellers, he and his father both want to catch the guilty man: his father, a tribal judge going about this in a different way to his adolescent son.

There's much to learn here about Native American life, though the 1980s setting never really came to life for me.

The characters were excellent though. From grandparents telling traditional stories to younger modern women, they weren't stereotypes.

You really feel for Joe's mum. Her reaction to the attack feels real, the perpetrator a threat.

Joe narrates the story looking back as an adult, knowing the consequences of each action he takes to get justice for his mum, which does bear comparison to the same idea in Stand By Me. Joe grows up and has to take quite adult decisions in the book. I didn't always feel it was a 13-year-old's voice, filtered through his adult self, but it was still moving watching him taking decisions to protect his family.

The ending is very poignant, not what you're expecting, and not exactly what you want to read, but this is no fairy tale.

Some lovely writing in here, but quite a slow story and the subject matter won't appeal to everyone.
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on 13 September 2014
Combining a coming-of-age story with a gruesome crime story, padded with a concentration of the distorted and (at times ridiculous and ridiculously unfair) laws which govern life on the Native American reservations, this was an engaging read which started slow but powered to a poignant finish.

Set in 1988, THE ROUND HOUSE tells the story of a brutal rape and the impact this had on the family, most particularly the 13 year old son of the victim.

Not as dark as Shadow Tag, THE ROUND HOUSE did lack some of the smooth expression of the mysticism of other Erdrich books such as The Painted Drum and The Last Miracle of Little No Horse. The characterisations, especially of young Joe Coutts, his father Bazil, Linda Wishkob and others were vibrant and real, although some of the humour and sexual innuendos were not as sophisticated as in other her books - although, as the point of view was that of a 13 year old, perhaps that was intended!

There were moments of the old Erdrich magic (particularly the last four pages) but overall was mostly a good tale and a shocking denouncement of the indignities of the double standards of American law (one law for the indigenous Native American Indians and another law for white people - the plight of the imprisoned Native American Indian political prisoner Leonard Peltier springs to mind. Even my country's icon, the late Nelson Mandela said #FREE LEONARD PELTIER)
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on 26 October 2013
Life is tragic and comic, to be sure, but works of art that try to express that paradox with specificity and force can't just juxtapose comic scenes (say, of the embarrassments of growing up) with tragic ones (say, a mother's traumatization following a rape) and hope that the complexity of life will thus be adequately represented. To be fair to Louise Erdrich, she isn't that crude, and yet this reader feels that the comic and tragic elements aren't as integrated as they need to be if the book is to make its full effect. What connects the two modes (comic and tragic) in this novel is sex -- the embarrassments of the young are largely sexual, and of course the horrifying event that the 13-year-old protagonist has to deal with has a sexual dimension too. The story is told by the protagonist from a perspective of having escaped the dangers of his youth to become a successful lawyer, but that later and, one would assume, wiser perspective is never brought to bear reflectively on the events of 1988 that are the book's focus. The reader gets the point that justice is hard to come by for Native Americans in a place where jurisdictions are blurry and where power is in the hands of white people; the reader understands the frustration of the protagonist's father, an Indian judge, who can't get an adequate legal response to his wife's rape, and the reader understands too the tacit understandings of the Native American community in the novel when rough justice is meted out -- understandings that are dignified not by an appeal to an abstract concept of justice that the white power-structure has failed to live up to but rather by a sense of the particular history and spiritual tone of Native American life, whose categories and requirements are ones that are quite alien to the encroaching white world. Erdrich does succeed in letting us see that a kind of justice that non-Native Americans might understand and approve has been done, even as she shows, through the power of stories and dreams and visions that what has made the act of justice imperative for the protagonist is something quite strange and even alien. What isn't so well achieved is the integration of the consciousness of these imperatives in the protagonist's mind with what seems like the more "normal" consciousness of growing up. As a result, the different ways in which sex and power intertwine tend to fall into either the broadly comic or the manifestly tragic categories, and no one in the novel reflects on that -- and yet surely more needs to be done with these themes.

The fact that that the rape of the narrator's mother is NOT the most horrible thing that the evil character does, and that what he does also involves a young mother and child, needs more weight. The character who might give it that weight, the narrator's mother, does not reflect as much on that crime as she might have done, given her interest in the young mother and her baby. The parallel between the situations of the baby -- who, it seems, will be brought up "white" -- and that of the white Linda Wishkob, who was brought up "Indian," could be made more of. Lurking in the background of the novel is the issue of cultural continuity and threats to it. So, an intriguing novel, but one that one would like to see developed a bit more. One doesn't want a lecture from the now-grown-up protagonist, but one does want a bit more reflection, and I think that could have been achieved while preserving the vividness of the earlier scenes.
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on 24 September 2013
Louise Erdrich has written The Round House on a harrowing subject enormously well. Louise is very a very gifted storyteller. I can see why Louise has the National Book Award. Louise is one of the most interesting American novelist I have come across.
The Coutts family live on a reservation in North Dakota. Joe coutts is just thirteen years old he is the narrator throughout The Round House. His father is a tribal judge. In 1988 Joe's mother Geraldine is brutality raped near the round house. As Geraldine is traumatized she takes to her bed, where Joe's father has to cook for them.
I highly recommend readers to read The Round House.
I believe The Round House is the novel everyone will be talking about. Every reader will feel such compassion for the Coutts family. The Round House is a great novel for book clubs to read and talk about. My review is on ireadnovels wordpress com. Happy reading to all readers. Review by ireadnovels.wordpress.com
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I've been fortunate in 2013 to enjoy a number of terrific books. Books that brought a smile to my face and put joy in my heart. Books that I can hand to anybody and say, 'read this, you'll love it.' The Round House isn't one of those books. But it might just be the best novel I've read so far this year. The stories I've gravitated towards this year have tended to be contemporary, set in the UK and been about the absurdities of modern life. They have often mirrored my own existence. The Round House is far away from this.

Set in the recent past, 1988, in the American Midwest, The Round House opens with a rape and attempted murder. The victim is a Native American, Geraldine, mother of thirteen-year-old Joe. The narrative follows Joe as he and the rest of his community try to come to terms with the attack. It's a slow meandering tale, but is incisive in its examination of crimes big and small.

There are many layers and nuances to this novel. At the highest level it's a murder-mystery, but its true strengths lie much deeper than that. There is an examination of the complicated land politics that govern Indian reservations; the inconsistent rules that decide which law enforcement body can try and punish criminals. This problem, and its deep ramifications, provide the novel's moral and ethical backbone. The role of Catholic missionaries for good and ill is looked at, as is the way in which Catholicism has become ingrained into Indian traditions. It's a fascinating portrayal of an ancient culture vying for recognition and acceptance in the modern world.

Beyond the tribe's spiritual culture, it is also revealing about the mundane aspects of reservation life. Families, food, jobs, law and order, all artfully revealed. This gentle reverence for life's small events put me very much in mind of the prose of Anne Tyler. Most of all however, this is coming of age tale. His mother's terrible ordeal flings Joe from the border of adolescence deep into adulthood. He and his friends criss-cross the reservation hunting for clues to the identity of his mother's attacker. Their interactions, as a unit, and their individual relationships are reminiscent of Stephen King's story 'Stand by Me'. The smooth innocence of childhood rubbing against the harsh realities of adulthood is expertly portrayed. It's a beautiful evocation of the journey from boy to man.

This is a novel light on plot, yet strong on story. It's characters are a beautifully drawn ensemble cast of heroes and villains, shirkers and grafters, friends and enemies. They made reservation life almost tangible to me, despite being cosseted here in middle England. From beginning to end, this is a powerful novel, with an important message. I didn't always enjoy reading The Round House, but its quality shone throughout. This is a book to immerse yourself in, soak up its characters, their pain and their victories. High quality fiction and highly recommended.
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