Based on true criminal cases, this story reveals the injustices that remain for American Indians today.
The Coutts family (Geraldine, Brazil and son Joe) live on a reservation in Dakota. One day in 1988, Geraldine is attacked. She is traumatised and withdraws to her room. Brazil is a tribal judge and he works with the official investigators, but Joe is not satisfied and with his friends he searches for the truth, and when it is found takes action.
“Always I kept going back to the day I dug the trees out of the foundation of our house. How tough those roots had clung. Maybe they had pulled out the blocks that held our house up. And how funny, strange, that a thing can grow so powerful even when planted in the wrong place. Ideas too, I muttered.”
“My father could out-weather anybody. Like people anywhere, there were times when it was the only topic where people here felt comfortably expressive, and my father could go on earnestly, seemingly forever. When the current weather was exhausted, there was all the weather that had occurred in recorded history, weather lived through or witnessed by a relative, or even heard about on the news. Catastrophic weather of all types. And when that was done with, there was all the weather that might possibly occur in the future. I’d even heard him speculate about weather in the afterlife.”
“President Reagan, ruddy cheeks and muddled eyes, B-movie teeth, grinned off the wall in his government-issue portrait. Reagan was so dense about Indians that he thought we lived in ‘preserves’.”
- National Book Award judges’ comment: “In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories”
- The Guardian: “What begins as a tense and gripping mystery gradually evolves into something else as a murky mixture of legal and boundary issues makes prosecuting Joe’s mother’s attacker incredibly difficult. The need to avenge a crime that might otherwise fall through the cracks becomes central and Joe is dragged into adulthood in the ugliest way imaginable.”
Notable Awards: 2012 Winner National Book Award for Fiction
Background note: The Tribal Courts on Indian land in the USA have been limited in their jurisdiction, and often undermined by state and federal governments. As a consequence, many criminal acts have gone unpunished. The statistics for sexual assault on Native American women is higher than national averages. President Barack Obama called the situation “an assault on our national conscience”, and signed the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act, which gives wider sentencing authority to tribal courts. According to The Indian Law Resource Centre, this has made a big difference to the number of sexual assault cases being prosecuted, but there is still more that can be done. More information: Amnesty International