Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Posted on May 6, 2014 at 6:00 am

by Ellen Peters

Told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts, The Round House is a poignant coming-of-age story set in 1988 on a North Dakota reservation. Joe’s world has just been tilted sideways when a horrible act of violence and injustice that threatens to destroy his family was committed against his mother, Geraldine. She is clearly tormented and distances herself from her husband, tribal judge Bazil Coutts.

Joe struggles to hang on to his innocence, even as the aftermath of the assault initiates him into a world of discrimination and malevolence. He turns to his friends for comfort and distraction when his efforts to help his mother combat depression prove futile.

When the attacker is suspected and the criminal justice system is slow and ineffective, Joe investigates on his own with the help of his friends, starting with the sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe, the Round House, which is also connected to the crime. Throughout the novel, Joe learns more about the recent and not-so-recent history of his people, history that culminates into the present-day events. He seeks help from unlikely sources, and questions his own sense of right and wrong, at times in conflict.

The novel’s characters are richly drawn, engendering the reader’s compassion and concern. The many compelling minor characters stir up sympathy as well, adding further interest to the story. Though not a light read, I highly recommend The Round House, especially to readers who will appreciate Erdrich’s gorgeous prose and powerful story. I will continue to reflect on The Round House for a long time to come.

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