Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich

            The old buffalo woman told Nanapush to build the Round House: “The round house will be my body, the poles my ribs, the fire my heart. It will be the body of your mother and it must be respected the same way.” (pp. 234-235) The Round House was a public, sacred place on the reservation. However, in The Round House, the sacred nature of the Round House was violated.

            The narrator of The Round House is Joe, a 13 year old Ojibwe boy living on a North Dakota reservation. He is, in actuality, “the second Antone Bazil Coutts” (p. 4) – and some members of his family call him “Oops” – but when he was six, he decided that he was “Joe”.

            Joe’s mother, Geraldine, was attacked at the Round House. In The Round House, we learn from Joe about life on the Ojibwe reservation – life in the aftermath of the violent attack on his mother.

            The details surrounding Geraldine’s attack seep out slowly. Both Joe and his father, a tribal judge, want justice. Joe and his friends investigate and ferret out information; his father is relying upon the legal system for information and justice.

            Legal justice is problematic, however, because the Round House is located at a place where 3 jurisdictions collide: tribal law, state law, and federal law. While Geraldine is at the hospital, Joe has a conversation with his father:

            “He tapped his watch, bit down on his lip. Now if the police would come. They need to get a statement. They should have been here.
            We turned to go back to the room.
            Which police? I asked.
            Exactly, he said.” (p.12)

Not only is it unclear which legal system has jurisdiction, but even if the tribal court were to have territorial jurisdiction, it would not have jurisdiction over a white man. Although a suspect is apprehended – a white man – he is released due to this jurisdictional quagmire.

            The Round House provides an eye opening account of life on the reservation. Erdrich shows us, as well, the injustices that many Native American women continue to endure due, in large part, to these jurisdictional entanglements.

The book is well written, and Erdrich has done a wonderful job with character development. One example that resonated with me is when Joe was describing his one aunt: “She was a horse lover….So along with the whiskey and perfume and smoke, she often exuded faint undertones of hay, dust, and the fragrance of horse, which once you smell it you always miss it. Humans were meant to live with the horse.” (p, 26)

Although Geraldine’s attack and the subsequent reactions to her attack appear to be of central significance to the plot, there is so much more to The Round House. The complex characters and convoluted relationships and familial ties, for example, are exquisite.

            The Round House is a wonderful work of literary fiction.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

THIS BODY OF DEATH by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George

            As This Body of Death is a mystery, there is a murder: a young woman was found stabbed to death in a cemetery in London. This event, however, does not appear to be at the center of the novel – it would be more accurate to categorize the murder as the glue that connects the multitudinous threads of the various plots that make up the story.

            In addition to the investigation in London, This Body of Death also takes us to the New Forest, where ponies and other animals roam free. Along the way, we also learn about the interesting art of roof thatching.

            This Body of Death introduces Acting Superintendent Isabelle Ardery. Although George does a good job capturing the difficulties facing women who occupy senior positions, such as a Superintendent with New Scotland Yard, Ardery is an unflattering character whose actions personify the negative stereotypes often associated with such women. The only positive about Ardery’s presence is the fact that she is instrumental in Lynley’s return. However, I found their relationship to be dissatisfying.

            Elizabeth George’s writing is above par, as usual. The book is interesting, as there are a number of complex, and seemingly unrelated, plot lines. There are many characters with intricate relationships, and it was even difficult, at the beginning, to keep all the disparate plot lines straight. Despite this complexity, it was relatively easy to predict the outcome of the book – not all of the details, but enough of the major pieces. Even though I was able to predict a chunk of the conclusion, I was uncertain which of the boys was involved; I found the boy who ended up being involved to be an unrealistic choice in light of the description of that boy’s psychopathology. This analysis is intentionally cryptic, as I do not want to risk spoiling the book for other readers.

            I have always enjoyed Elizabeth George’s work. Although I do not believe that This Body of Death is one of her best works, I nonetheless enjoyed having another opportunity to return to the world that George has created.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

THE FIREBIRD by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley

            The Winter Sea has been my longtime favorite book written by Susanna Kearsley. Each time I finish the book, however, I yearn for more. Kearsley has delivered more with The Firebird. Although the book stands alone – and stars one of her characters from a different book – we follow, or learn more about, many of the characters from The Winter Sea.

            In The Firebird, as in many of Kearsley’s novels, we learn of the history through a present day person. Nicola Marter, like her friend Rob McMorran (Robbie from one of Kearsley’s previous novels), has parapsychological abilities. Nicola works in a gallery, and is scheduled to travel to Russia for gallery business. When her boss declined to buy a wooden firebird from a seller, because there was no proof demonstrating that it had been given to the seller’s family by Empress Catherine, Nicola decided to try to find the provenance for the firebird during her upcoming trip.

             A firebird, Nicola explains to Rob, is “’a bird out of folklore, with bright glowing feathers, like flame. One feather would light a whole room, and it’s said that whenever a firebird’s feather falls, then a new art will spring up in that place.’” (p. 65). The firebird, according to Nicola, can be found in several old Russian fairy tales.

            Nicola and Rob trace the firebird’s history through Anna, one of Kearsley’s characters from The Winter Sea. By using their psychic abilities, they are able to follow the provenance for the firebird, while we learn more about the history of the Jacobites, as well as about characters from The Winter Sea and some new characters. Unsurprisingly, there are striking parallels between Anna’s history and Nicola and Rob’s modern day.

            I loved every minute of being reunited with the many friends from The Winter Sea who also appear in The Firebird. But now, I cannot determine which of Kearsley’s books is my favorite; for the moment, I believe it’s a dead heat between The Winter Sea and The Firebird.