New York Times Bestseller
Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.
Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?
Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.
Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.
In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.
Date of Birth:June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:Little Falls, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979
What a great story! Erdrich has written a fiction account, somewhat biographical, of her grandfather's life in the 1950s. As part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, they were still very much a community and part of a larger family. A bill, presented in Congress by Arthur Watkins, called for "termination" of the tribe and reservation. The land had been given by treaty to be used by the Native Americans forever. Watkins was a racist and a bigot who thought he knew how the world should be run. Thomas farmed and worked as a night watchman at the jewel board plant in North Dakota. We meet his extended family and friends and discover how their lives intertwined with many others outside of Turtle Mountain. The characters were so vividly drawn, their beliefs and their culture and knowledge, much of which was passed down generation to generation. Thomas, educated at boarding school, was very aware of the bigger world outside the area in which he lived. He became aware of the termination bill, and spent most of the rest of his life dealing with it. He fought for what he believed. Erdrich indicated in the end notes that similar terminations are still happening, and how each one of us needs to be aware of these things.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me an advanced reading copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors, and she does not disappoint in the Night Watchman. I really enjoyed the beautiful language and sentence structure and the picture of the reservation and reservation politics. I also like the imagery evoked with the spirit world. It turns out much of the book is based on her relatives and events from her relatives' lives.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC. I'm having a little trouble distilling my thoughts on The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. My overall impression is one of disjointedness and incompleteness, but I think maybe that was her point? To summarize the plot, The Night Watchman tells the story of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa in the 1950s. The major crisis of the book is the U.S. government's attempt to terminate federal support of the tribe and remove them from their land. The tribe and their community band together to argue against the bill and preserve their status. As this monumental battle wages in the background (occasionally rising to the foreground), the members of the Turtle Mountain tribe face stark realities of daily life: poverty, abuse, trafficking, identity crises, losing and finding love. I'm a fan of Ms. Erdrich and have read a few of her previous novels. The Night Watchman isn't my favorite, but it does feel like a deeply personal novel, causing me to give it a careful read. The story is told from many viewpoints. As always, Erdrich's characters are vivid and interesting; I wanted to hear more about several of them and felt they could have had books devoted just to them. The subplots criss-crossed and not all of them connected. This disconnectedness is my strongest criticism of the book, and the aspect that left me feeling the most dissatisfied. As I read Erdrich's work, my mind kept drawing a comparison to Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. Although Erdrich's work is prose, there is a lyrical quality to many of the scenes, especially the dream and vision sequences. The short chapters form vignettes that describe a wide variety of people who are all part of the same community. The ending was abrupt and made the novel feel unfinished. But on reflection, I think this may have been intentional. It seems to me that Erdrich's goal was not to tell the termination story from start to finish but to take a snapshot in time and show us what it was like to live a few months as part of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa community in the 1950s. And in that respect, I'd say she succeeded. Recommended for Erdrich fans and literary fiction readers. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.
This is my first book by Louise Erdrich, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I heard her interviewed on the radio and thought it sounded great, and I was not disappointed. I was especially engaged by the detailed descriptions of everyday life on the reservation and the human warmth of the characters. It is semi-biographical and the characters are drawn so vividly and so feelingly. The author has great respect and empathy for her characters and it is very easy to like and admire them. I will look for more of Erdrich's work.