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How is it that I’d never known about Louise Erdrich?

The Louise Erdrich who just won the National Book Award. The Louise Erdrich who was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Louise Erdich who has written 14 novels, seven children’s book, three books of poetry, and three non-fiction books. The Louise Erdrich who has been winning writing awards since the mid 80s, including a National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (for Love Medicine (1984) and an O. Henry Award, for the short story “Fleur” (published in Esquire, August 1986).

It’s one thing never to have read a book by a given author. It’s whole other level not to even know about an author with the acclaim of Louise Erdrich.

I don’t know how I missed her. But I’m delighted that my friend Robin Rice, whom I first met in the Peace Corps 47 years ago and with whom I keep in touch via MillersTime, told me about Erdrich recently.

So when I was at our wonderful local independent bookstore the other day, getting a copy of Oliver Sacks’ new book Hallucinations, I happened to see Erdich’s novel The Round House in a display of the 2012 National Book Award winners.

Now I am getting acquainted with Louise Erdrich. I have read a bit about her, have watched the wonderful 2010 Bill Moyers’ interview with her (see below), and have just finished her latest book.

The setting for The Round House is on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation, and the time period is the late 1980s.  It is the story of what happens to the Coutts family (mother, father, and son) as the result of a terrible incident that happens to Geraldine, the mother. Told largely through the eyes of the son, 13-year old Joe, the family is forever changed. As Judge Antone Coutts, the father, tries to console his wife, keep her safe, and looks for justice, Joe looks for vengance.

What follows is a detective story (of sorts), a coming of age story, a story of racial injustice, and a tragedy. In telling this story, Erdrich grabs the reader at the outset and doesn’t let go. Not a polemic, it nevertheless informs and teaches. And it is beautifully written.

In some ways, Erdrich’s The Round House reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. They each tell a story that entertains and educates. They each write about realities of contemporary life in a part of our society most of us do not know well. Both use their wonderful writing skills to create characters and stories that go beyond just entertainment. They may be writing fiction, but there is an honesty and a reality to their writing that make these stories fresh and meaningful and not easily forgotten.

Ah, I can’t wait to read more of Erdrich. But which one to read next?

If you have read other Louise Erdrich novels or writings that you have enjoyed, please let me and others know which ones you particularly liked.

If you do not know any of Erdrich’s work, you might want to start by watching and listening to the interview Bill Moyers lovingly conducted with her two years ago.

Actually, even if you know of Erdrich, still check out the interview.