For the month of October, our book club pick is The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota to parents who taught at a boarding school set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Wahpeton, North Dakota. She is of Chippewa descent and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians; her background and childhood have been hugely influential in her writing. Erdrich was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth College, where she earned an English degree. After Dartmouth, she pursued and graduated with a Masters of Arts in Writing from John Hopkins University in 1979. Erdrich is the owner of the independent bookstore Birchbark Books in Minnesota, which specializes in Native American literature and arts.
The Round House is a suspenseful novel about Geraldine Coutts, a Native American woman who is raped. The story is told through the eyes of Joe, her thirteen year old son, who witnesses the unraveling of his mother as she becomes deeply depressed and struggles to heal from the trauma of sexual violence. The novel follows Joe and his father, a tribal chief, as they attempt to solve the mystery of who the rapist is and seek justice for Geraldine. In 2012, The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction.
On writing her books: "All of the books will be connected somehow—by history and blood and by something I have no control over, which is the writing itself. The writing is going to connect where it wants to, and I will have to try and follow along."
On who she is as a writer: "I hate to pigeonhole myself as a writer, but being a female and a mother and a Native American are important aspects of my work, and even more than being mixed blood or Native, it’s difficult to be a mother and a writer."
On irreversible injustices committed against Native American communities: "Some of the most well-meaning gestures end up hurting the person more than you could ever imagine. For instance, in the beginning, the idea of bringing everyone into the dominant culture was seen as a very generous ... interesting, wonderful thing to do. I mean, the alternative was, at that time — and I talk about this in the book — was extermination. It was education or extermination. And that's the point at which the acculturation seemed as though it was generous. And it was terrible. It was a terrible thing to do. It was one of the things that tore up the family structure for native people. It's taken generations for people to begin to restore their balance."
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.