Famed Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, published this month, is on the short list for a National Book Award, the National Book Foundation announced on October 10.
The Round House (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012) joins four other finalists in the fiction category, including This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books, Penguin Group USA), by Junot Díaz, the Dominican-American author who last week was awarded a so-called genius grant by the MacArthur Foundation.
The other fiction nominees are A Hologram for the King (McSweeney’s Books), by Dave Eggers; Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers), by Ben Fountain; and The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company), by Kevin Powers.
Erdrich’s story, though fictional, is especially timely considering recent news about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and revelations of rampant sexual abuse on at least one reserve. It’s the second in a trilogy begun in 2008 with The Plague of Doves (a Pulitzer Prize finalist, also published by HarperCollins), and unfolds in the aftermath of the rape of Geraldine Coutts on her North Dakota Ojibwe reservation in 1988. Her 13-year-old son, Joe, takes revenge into his own hands as he watches, helpless, while his mother succumbs to the emotional injuries wrought by trauma.
It’s a “coming-of-age story, a mystery and a tender, moving novel of family, history and culture,” HarperCollins writes in its description of The Round House. The murky jurisdiction—determining whether the attack has occurred on tribal, state or federal land—impedes investigation and prosecution in the novel, even as it reflects the reality faced by many victims of violence in Indian country.
This is her 14th novel and her third nomination for a National Book Award. Erdrich owns, along with sister Heid Erdrich (whose poetry anthology Cell Traffic came out this year from the University of Arizona Press), the famed bookstore Birchbark Books in Minnesota, and the Ojibwe-language imprint Wiigwaas Press. The Erdrich siblings—six in all—are enrolled members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Speaking to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the nominee said she had written the book to make it a gripping read about a tough-to-approach subject.
“I wanted to write this story with suspense,” Erdrich told the newspaper. “How else am I going to approach this subject [rape and its consequences] unless people want to keep reading? Historical mistakes have made jurisdictional problems on reservations difficult to prosecute rape cases. That’s the underpinning of the book. But I wanted to tell it as a very human, character-driven story.”
The winners will be announced on November 14. A full list of nominees is available at the National Book Foundation‘s website.