The Round House (2012)

by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is different from her usual use of multiple narrators and magical happenings. The single narrator of this National Book Award–winning novel is a 13-year-old boy. Joe. He and his parents, tribal court judge Bazil Coutts and tribal enrollment clerk Geraldine Coutts, live on the Ojibwe Reservation in North Dakota. As the book opens, Geraldine has been raped near a sacred round house. Traumatized and afraid, she only gradually reveals details that pinpoint the rapist. When the man can’t be prosecuted because of a question about jurisdiction, Joe takes it upon himself to get justice. The Round House is grounded in hard realism: As Erdrich says in an afterword, one in three Native American women are raped in their lifetimes, and 80 percent of the perpetrators of rape on reservations are non–Native. Many of these crimes were not prosecuted before the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 because tribal courts could only prosecute tribal members.

Along with being a gripping crime novel, The Round House is the story of parents and children and a family’s shifting balance of responsibility as a son faces heartbreak and an excruciating ethical choice. It is also a story of teenage friendship and support. Native America legends are significant, although Erdrich shies away from the magical elements of her previous books. There are some great characters, especially Joe’s feisty grandfather Mooshum, best friend Cappy, and, of course, Joe himself, a good kid who becomes a man sooner than he wished for.


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