This is a memorable and moving novel. Erdrich draws on her heritage as a mixed race member of the Ojibwe group of the Chippewa tribe of North American Indians. The reader learns about the culture of these native people, their history and the social context in which they find themselves today. The story of The Round House sheds light on the particular legal problems arising from the community’s semi-independent and yet historically disadvantaged status.
However, there is nothing theoretical or polemical about the story itself. It is a coming-of-age novel, like Catcher in the Rye or To Kill A Mockingbird. Unlike previous novels by Erdrich which I have read, it is narrated by a single character, 13 year old Joe Coutts, whose father is the elderly Antone Bazil Coutts, the judge who presides over the Reservation court, and is keenly protective of the legal rights of his own community. The event that triggers the narrative is the brutal rape of Joe’s mother, Geraldine. To the readers of Erdrich’s previous novels, these adult characters will already be familiar, as she has written about their lives and the historical events that shaped their community in her earlier books.
This novel, however, has a narrative unity as it follows the unravelling of the story behind the violent central event and the profound consequences it has for everyone involved. I found it an irresistible read.