The Round House – Louise Erdrich                                                                    THE ROUND HOUSE                                                      
Harper Collins/2012
By – Sheri de Grom

The Round House is Louise Erdrich’s twenty-sixth book.

I started reading Erdrich novels with Love Medicine and The Beet Queen in the 1980s and have been a loyal reader ever since. In The Round House she writes about the social and spiritual lives of Native Americans, a common subject throughout the works of Ms. Erdrich’s.

In my opinion, there isn’t another contemporary American writer who so accurately portrays life on a reservation. Ms. Erdrich creates real characters who not only live on the reservation but act in believable ways. Her details are as important as any other element and her descriptions add depth to the stories she tells.

While pursuing post-graduate studies in the field of Native American Sociology in preparation for a stint involving contracts with the most successful tribal governments in Alaska and exporting those contracts to the lower forty-eight states, I had occasion to read numerous fiction and non-fiction authors. Ms. Erdrich is spot-on in describing traditions, entwinement of cultures, and government interference with tribal belief systems that have not worked for decades.

The Round House brings to life Joe, a thirteen-year old Ojibwe boy on a reservation in North Dakota in 1988.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Erdrich stated, “I wanted to make it a book with suspense so I kept answering questions all through the book. There’s always something unanswered.”

The premise of the novel is based on a tragic injustice wherein tribal governments could not prosecute non-Indians who committed crimes on reservations. In the novel’s afterward, she writes about the appalling numbers of non-Indian men who rape Indian women on tribal lands and escape prosecution because of jurisdictional issues.”

The early pages of The Round House reveal that Joe’s mother, Geraldine, is brutally raped by a white man in a savage act of vengeance. Traumatized, Geraldine withdraws into silence, leaving her husband—a tribal—judge, with a kind of roiling, helpless grief and anger. Joe meanwhile, is left with the need to resolve profound questions about justice, revenge and the inexplicable nature of evil.

. . . Pg 12[Three men came through the emergency ward doors and stood quietly in the hall. There was a state trooper, an officer local to the town of Hoopdance, and Vince Madwesin, from the tribal police. My father had insisted that they each take a statement from my mother because it wasn’t clear where the crime had been committed—on state or tribal land—or who had committed it—an Indian or a non-Indian.]

Imagine if you will the horror of going through an interrogation in the emergency room after being raped—because an interrogation is exactly what it feels like. Then, stop and think what it might feel like for a native American woman to go through the same experience a total of three times. How can this be justice?

Reading The Round House is more than extracting information or following the characters to the end of the story. At a point, this book becomes a thriller, but it’s literary, not just a whodunit. Words with muscle combine with psychological insight and crafty plotting. The reader knows the lives of the characters and why events occur the way they do. The journey unfolds in an insightful way.

Joe’s entire world changes as a result of the rape. When his mother comes home from the hospital, she no longer wants to be at the center of the family. She retreats to her bedroom and stays there day and night. Gone is the laughter, the delicious meals, the clean clothes and house. There’s no longer food in the refrigerator. Joe’s father doesn’t shop; he’s the tribal chief and he’s depressed. The world stops.

The Round House also has a touch of humor. It’s especially evident when Joe and his friends are with their elders. There’s also the normal amount of horse-play between Joe and his three friends.

Joe’s determined to find the person responsible for his mother’s condition. He takes it upon himself to go through his father’s old case files. Had his father sent someone to prison who wanted revenge? Had he charged someone with a crime they felt was unjust?

. . . Pg 92 [If I could tan your hide, he said, I would do that. But it just . . . I could never do you harm. Also, I am pretty certain that if I did tan your hide the hiding wouldn’t work. In fact, it might set your mind against me. It might cause you to do things secretly. So I am going to have to appeal to you, Joe. I am going to have to ask you to stop. No more hunting down the attacker. No more clue gathering. I realize it is my fault because I sat you down to read through the cases I pulled. But I was wrong to draw you in. You’re too damn inquisitive, Joe. You’ve surprised the hell out of me. I’m afraid. You could get yourself . . . if anything happened to you . . .

Nothing’s going to happen to me!

I had expected my father to be proud. To give me one of his low whistles of surprise. I’d expected that he would help me plan what to do next. How to set the trap. How to catch the priest. Instead, I was getting a lecture. I sat back in my chair and kicked at the gas can.] . . .

The Round House is an excellent choice for a book group. There are endless choices for discussion: family dynamics, the influence of crime on the community and the family, Native American culture, justice, the emotional relationship of a thirteen-year old boy with his mother, and the list goes on.

I unconditionally recommend The Round House for anyone looking for a read that’s not only well-written but portrays the accuracy of life on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988. You won’t read it just for the history. And while it’s not true crime, it reads as though it could be. You cannot go wrong with The Round House.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. FlaHam says:

    Sheri, What a wonderful review, you write such an enticing review of The Round House, I may in fact add to my cue. Take care, be safe, Bill

    • Bill – I’m happy you enjoyed the review. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors and her narrative is rich in native culture. I felt I’d stepped onto the reservation and the fight became my own. If you haven’t read any of her novels, I invite you to start soon. I’ve read several of her novels and haven’t found a negative one yet. As the saying goes, ‘write what you know.’ We only have 5 or 6 writers that are as intimately familiar with Native American culture. Erdrich took a risk in taking this topic on but as always, she portrayed it with the reality that it is.

  2. Your review is riveting! I felt I was on the scene…you write so well! My heart was bleeding with this woman…the story may have a few fictional aspects to it, nevertheless, it hits upon the sad truth that when a woman is raped, she is raped more than once regarding the same deed. Such injustice and in humane treatment of women world-wide! Your review is perfectly written in every possible manner: engaging, thorough, suspenseful, and I am going out to find the book this day!

  3. lisaelskerarvid says:

    Nominert deg til family award 😊

  4. I am so excited to order this soon. I have never read Catcher In the Rye and it’s in my shopping cart list, too. I love books so much, I decided to order real copies instead of going the Kindle route. I will think of your and your blog while I’m reading this summer.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was my book club pick and it really lent itself to some wonderful discussion.

  6. iamforchange says:

    Sheri sounds like an excellent read. I am grateful for all you share and the lovely comments you leave and will work on being more timely in my responses to them and getting to your pages more often. I think I have the WP e mail under control now! So many have shared so much with me and I wish to share as well please accept my nominations and if nothing else know I am grateful for your sharing on your pages with us all and the time you share with me on mine.Thank you!! 🙂 Joe

    • Joe – It’s okay that you reply a little later than you would like. I do the same. Let’s face it, life does have a way of demanding that we pay attention when sometimes we’d rather be doing other things. You have so much going on. I know you are there and that you care. And I hope you know that I am here and that I care about you. Slow down and smell the roses and watch a few clouds as they float by.

  7. Many women have trouble with the way that the justice system handles rape victims. And the way we as a society have dealt with Native American issues is just shameful. You have presented a wonderful review Sheri. I’ll add this one to my list.

  8. Seems to be an interesting and well crafted tale. My curiosity has been increased!


  9. Sold! Just popped over to Amazon & purchased our copy of “The Round House”. Excellent review Sheri. Had us reeled in early on. Although I understand Mae’s concern with a book that deals with subject matter both emotional & harsh! I think that it’s important for us as women to not only read, but get the word out to others, when an injustice is done not only to a woman, but a Native American woman. I’m looking forward to reading this Sheri, and will be sharing this with all our networking friends.

  10. A million thans over. Your name will most definitly be going under the tab of blogs I follow:)

  11. amaya ellman says:

    Reblogged this on amaya ellman and commented:
    Writer Sheri de Grom’s insightful review of The Round House by author Louise Erdrich. Link to Sheri’s blog for more interesting posts and opinion at

  12. amaya ellman says:

    Pleasure, Sheri.
    You can have confidence in yourself – you are a very skilled writer.
    I think some of my readers will enjoy your review, hope you don’t mind a re-blog? I will of course credit you and give a link to your blog as well.

  13. amaya ellman says:

    “Joe meanwhile, is left with the need to resolve profound questions about justice, revenge and the inexplicable nature of evil.”
    What a superb sounding book – and what an insightful, interesting review. Your description really makes me want to delve into the traumatic but inspiring world Erdrich herself describes. Fiction that educates, entertains and prompts change is fiction worth reading.
    Thanks for sharing your review of the book.

  14. lisaelskerarvid says:

    Har nominert deg til shine om award💖

  15. Pingback: Shine on award💖 | Ta hendene til din kjære – se på dem og hold dem hardt Disse hendene skal du følge, leie og lede. Du skal få føle på varmen fra dem og kjenne en inderlig glede. De skal stryke deg og de skal holde rundt deg – de er ikke skap

  16. Sheryl says:

    The book sounds really good. I’ll have to look for it at the library. And, your graduate program sounds really interesting. I bet it wonderfully prepared you for your work.

  17. Sheri, in the hundreds of years we have “occupied” Indian lands, there has been a flood of misinformation, mostly directed at leaving the “white man” with the impression that he is sovereign over the Indian. I love any book that shines a bright light on the areas of injustice we still refuse to acknoweldge. Thanks … The Round House … sounds like a compelling read 🙂

  18. This one is in my TBR list and your review certainly makes me want to try to get to it faster!

    • Jeri – Thanks for stopping by to read with me. ‘The Round House’ by Louise Erdrich has such an interesting story premise and it doesn’t let up until the last page. For me, I was glad I read the afterward information (I always do in novels, anyway) but it made it a much richer read for me. The injustice Native American Woman must endure to find possible justice for being raped and then if it’s a white man that raped a native-american woman on a reservation, the tribal-council has no jurisdiction over any proceedings.

  19. booklaurie says:

    Once again, I hit the keyboard to order this as soon as I read your last paragraph. Even though it sounds depressing, I figure (as a former rape counselor) I can skip over a lot of that part and just stay with Joe.

    It’s funny to think of 1988 as being “history,” but I guess now it actually is!

    • Laurie – Thank you for stopping by and reading with me. I believe you’ll find Joe’s relationship with his mother interesting. I had studied about this particular body of law when I was preparing to go into the Alaskan bush to work on a government contract but it was one that no one would talk about at all. I found myself cheering Joe on in his investigative work although at age 13 he was in way over his head. He’s definitely a young man I’d recruit to my investigataive team any time, anywhere.

  20. What a great way to find out about Native Americans and their culture and how they live.
    Thanks, Sheri.

    • Patricia – I’ve read all twenty-six of Louise Erdrich’s works (to include children and non-fiction) and she writes to the heart and soul of the native American. She paints pictres that are not always pleasant to read but they are true and are stories that must be told. I read hundreds of treaties preparing for my contract work in Alaska, and reading Ms. Erdrich’s work probably did more to prepare me for the trip than any other author I read during that period, either fiction or non fiction.

  21. Mae Clair says:

    I don’t believe I could handle such an emotional read, but it definitely sounds like a well-written story. Given your praise for The Round House, I have no doubt it’s exceptional. As always, an insightful and compelling review, Sheri!

    • Mae – ‘The Round House’ takes place in the real world. It’s not a romance with a HEA and the world is real. Unfortunately there’s no hero to ride in to save the day. This is a part of our American culture that MUST be cleaned up. Unfortunately, many white-men believe they can still get away with these terrible actions against native american women and we must find a way to bring them to justice and hold them accountable. Often the woman (as in much of our own culture) is afraid to testify for further ramifications. And, the same can be said for our own society. As the saying goes, only the truth will set us free. Thanks for setting us free. And, yes, it was a difficult story to face and I’ve read at length on this subject.

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