The night watchman A novel

Louise Erdrich

Book - 2020

It is 1953. Thomas Wazhushk is the night watchman at the first factory to open near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a prominent Chippewa Council member, trying to understand a new bill that is soon to be put before Congress. The US Government calls it an 'emancipation' bill; but it isn't about freedom - it threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their very identity. How can he fight this betrayal? Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Pixie - 'Patrice' - Paranteau has no desire to wear herself down on a husband and kids. She works at the factory, earning barely enough to support her mother and brother, let alone her alcoholic father who sometimes returns home... to bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to get if she's ever going to get to Minnesota to find her missing sister Vera. In The Night Watchman multi-award winning author Louise Erdrich weaves together a story of past and future generations, of preservation and progress. She grapples with the worst and best impulses of human nature, illuminating the loves and lives, desires and ambitions of her characters with compassion, wit and intelligence.

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Review by Booklist Review

Patrice, 19, supports her family by laboring at the jewel bearing plant and splitting logs to heat their humble home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and it is Patrice who journeys to Minneapolis to search for Vera, her missing older sister. Thomas is the plant's night watchman and the guiding conscience in this spellbinding, reverent, and resplendent drama by the paramount storyteller of the northern plains. In her sixteenth novel, a work of distinct luminosity, Erdrich based soulful, disciplined, and witty Thomas on her grandfather. Accordingly, Thomas is a member of the Chippewa council, and deeply concerned about a 1953 bill pending in the U.S. Congress that threatens to terminate the legal status of their Chippewa band. As Patrice ventures into the horrific underworld she fears has claimed Vera, Thomas writes perfectly penned letters to federal officials, and marshals the community destitute but for their cherished land and culture for a trip to Washington, DC, to ensure that their voices are heard. Each risky mission to confront insidious forces endangering Chippewa lives and heritage generates a stream of involving, concurrent stories of longing and love. Through the personalities and predicaments of her many charismatic characters, and through rapturous descriptions of winter landscapes and steaming meals, sustaining humor and spiritual visitations, Erdrich traces the indelible traumas of racism and sexual violence and celebrates the vitality and depth of Chippewa life. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling and much-honored Erdrich is at her radiant best in this dramatic tale, which will be promoted with a national tour and a barrage of publicity.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2020 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Erdrich (Love Medicine) returns to North Dakota's Turtle Mountain Reservation for this stirring tale of a young Chippewa woman and her uncle's effort to halt the Termination Act of 1953. Pixie Paranteau takes a leave of absence from her job at the Jewel Bearing Plant to search for her sister, Vera, who was last seen in Minneapolis. Though she fails to find Vera, sparks fly between Pixie and a promising young boxer named Wood Mountain. Pixie then travels with her uncle Thomas, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee, to Washington, D.C., where he testifies at a congressional hearing on a bill abrogating treaties with Indians and abolishing Indian tribes. Also accompanying them are graduate student Millie Cloud and the ghost of Thomas's boyhood friend Roderick. Erdrich captures the Chippewa community's durable network of families, friends, and neighbors, alive or dead, including Pixie's alcoholic father and wise mother, who live in poverty. The heartbreaking conclusion to Vera's story resonates with the pervasive crisis of missing Native American women, while Thomas, Wood Mountain, and his trainer rally to put together a match to raise funds for Thomas's efforts to keep their land. Erdrich's inspired portrait of her own tribe's resilient heritage masterfully encompasses an array of characters and historical events. Erdrich remains an essential voice. (Mar.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Erdrich's fiction has always been informed by her Anishinaabe roots, but this novel is truly personal. Drawing on her grandfather's letters, written while he was tribal chairman, Edrich re-creates a shameful chapter in America's history when Congress introduced a bill to terminate the treaty rights of Native tribes, which would force assimilation and pave the way for a land grab. Members of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, led by the fictional Thomas Wazhushk, a night watchman at the local jewel-bearing plant, travel to Washington to protest. With him is his sharply observant niece Patrice Paranteau, who supports her family on wages from the plant yet yearns for an education and a future unfettered by men and babies. In Erdrich's hands, daily life on the reservation comes alive, the crushing poverty and lack of opportunity tempered by family cohesion and the wisdom of the elders. She acknowledges the scourge of alcoholism and exposes traffickers who prey on naive girls drawn to the cities. VERDICT National Book Award winner Erdrich once again calls upon her considerable storytelling skills to elucidate the struggles of generations of Native people to retain their cultural identity and their connection to the land. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]--Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.Erdrich's grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a "pompous racist" in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel's protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she's saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel's most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city's underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas' boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice's heart.A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.