Thursday, March 27, 2014
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich
THE ROUND HOUSE
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.