BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘The Night Watchman’ by Louise Erdrich

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, host of the long-running Book Stew, a video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, authors, playwrights, and even a cat who survived a tornado and wrote a book about it.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Louise Erdrich’s usual character-driven powers are in full force here. Told from the points of view of Thomas, a leader of the  Turtle Mountain Reservation tribe of Ojibwe people in Montana, and Patrice, a worker in a jewelry bearing plant, the struggles to stay warm and fed are seemingly insurmountable until, in 1953, a proposal is made to “terminate” the tribe’s treaties with the federal government and to sell off the tribe’s land.

Thomas knows that the action would mean the destruction and scattering of the tribe to the Twin Cities, and he calls upon every resource to fight and win the case. Patrice is also grieving the disappearance of her elder sister Vera, who took off to the cities to get married and is abandoned and kidnapped.

The most charming misfit is Millie, a serious student of anthropology who lives constrained by her autism limitations and boundaries until she is called upon to bring the results of her studies to the hearing in Washington, with Thomas and Patrice.

An incredible and often forgotten historical event occurs the day before the hearing, and Thomas becomes ill right afterwards. The story is based on the author’s grandfather’s honorable life, and the tension of not knowing if he will be successful shadows the lovely portraits of families of the reservation.

The novel is filled with beauty, sorrow, and joy, and worthy of the honors earned.

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