Round House, Louise Erdrich

roundA thirteen year old boy is faced with a tremendous burden when his mom is raped and brutally beaten. Forced to grow up, he is not satisfied with the justice system and he wants revenge. He is really not mature enough to understand the consequences of actions and he reacts mostly with emotion to all stimuli. He simply understands that his mom cannot recover with the monster still at lodge so he launches his own private investigation into the crime.
A member of the Ojibwe tribe, Joe soon learns from his father, a judge, how the justice system works when there is a dispute over jurisdiction between the Federal Government and an American Indian Tribe, regarding on whose territory the crime took place.
There are many intertwining themes around the main one of the rape. Punishment, or the lack thereof, for many infractions, is investigated. Throughout, we are voyeurs into the lives of young teenage boys as their hormones awaken and new thoughts and desires awake within them which are very often inappropriate. The contrast between the rape of Joe’s mother and the love between Joe’s friend Cappy and Zelia, however ill-advised, is stark. One is an act of anger and revulsion and the other, an act of gentleness and devotion. Perhaps another theme is about the wounds we all suffer, great and small, and how we learn to cope with them and go on. Some wounds are physical and some emotional, but they are all painful and difficult to conquer. The second in a planned series of three, the book can stand alone, even though the main characters from the first, reappear.
The book is written in an easy conversational style, very matter of fact, even when horrible things are being discussed. There is no real tension created, rather it is just a story being narrated and we witness it each day. Yet, despite the lack of fanfare and flourish, the message is immeasurable.
We learn that at 13, although Joe is too young to handle the weight on his shoulders, he proceeds to tackle a very adult problem. Along the way his decisions are sometimes unwise and foolhardy and the people he turns to less than perfect.
Occasionally, a Native American Indian word or term was used, with no real explanation, and sometimes I was not able to get the gist of it from the surrounding sentences. Nevertheless, the book is very enlightening when it comes to issues on the reservation.
The reader is forced to consider many questions. Are the Indians being treated fairly? Isn’t a crime, simply a crime, regardless of where it occurred? Should the heritage of the criminal and/or victim be of any consequence? One would think not, but the whole story almost silently and subtly screams and revolves around the issue of jurisdiction and because of that, also the fear that the criminal will go free to continue a life of crime and justice will not be done.
Based on true life experiences, the book is nevertheless made up out of whole cloth, according to the author. The underlying current, concerning the unfair treatment of the native American Indian is very well handled, gently, so as not to make anyone unduly angry, but also wisely, and thoroughly, in order to educate and explain the circumstances governing the two worlds. Joe’s Mooshum reveals bits and pieces of Indian lore in his dreams and while it is the stuff of fantasy, it opens a window onto the culture of the North Dakota tribe.
I wondered why the Indians seemed largely stereotyped as a group of drinkers, sex crazed, largely unemployed, even crude, foolish and dishonest, who were still being preyed upon by unscrupulous white men. Surely, this was not the author’s intent, and perhaps in the next book, Joe’s life as an adult will be expanded upon and a different, broader view of Indian accomplishments will be discovered.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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