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The Night Watchman (2020)

by Louise Erdrich

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1,940868,378 (4.05)164
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.… (more)
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English (85)  Dutch (1)  All languages (86)
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)
Erdrich at her best. ( )
  ben_r47 | Feb 22, 2024 |
I had a hard time connecting the two stories and felt it would have been better as two separate but related novels. Overall, though, I do love Louise's storytelling. ( )
  rosenmemily | Jan 7, 2024 |
In the early 1950s, news of a new "emancipation" bill from the US Congress reaches Thomas Wazhashk, a Chippewa council member and resident of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. The bill threatens to terminate the rights, identity, and sheer existence, of Thomas's Native American reservation community. Louise Erdrich, the author, models Thomas on the life of her grandfather who fought against the termination of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in the same era.

Thomas is the night watchman, or security guard, for a relatively new jewel-bearing plant near the reservation. Patrice Paranteau is recent high school graduate working at the jewel-bearing plant to support her mother and younger brother. While Thomas fights for the existence of their Native American community, Patrice journeys to save her sister, Vera, who disappeared after moving to Minneapolis. Meanwhile, a cast of characters in the reservation community explore themes of love, family and exploitation, and bring subtle humor to the story.

Following Thomas and Patrice's stories was a delightful treat. This book shares a story that needed to be told, and the beauty of Erdrich's prose, along with her deep research and understanding of the topic, do the story justice. This novel is packed full of characters--Wood Mountain, Juggie, Valentine, Barnes, and more--capturing the far-reaching but study definition of family in the reservation community. The prose captures beautiful dream sequences and reservation lore--in particular, the muskrat story will stick with me--that deepen the story.

Yet, in the end, The Night Watchman left me wanting more. I wished for more of Vera's story, which felt cut abruptly short. I wished for a deeper exploration of Millie and Rose and Zhanaat. Erdrich has begun to develop fascinating characters, and I wish to see them develop even more.

This is my first Louise Erdrich novel, and I look forward to reading many more. ( )
  cg2020 | Dec 15, 2023 |
I am weeping because the stories shared in this book are so heartbreaking. And beautiful. And filled with awe and empathy and spirit. I want to meet Erdrich's characters, speak to them...*know* them. Thank you for sharing, Ms. Erdrich! ( )
  decaturmamaof2 | Nov 22, 2023 |
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich follows Thomas Wazhashk as he works to fight against a new termination bill that would dissolve his Native American tribe, and Patrice Paranteau as she tries to find her place in a world built on traditions of marriage she doesn't want to follow and an unfulfilling working life.

Overall, I thought this was a good book. There were so many characters introduced, that I found it hard to get into and a little confusing at first. I do think having so many characters was important, though, as it shows the community aspects of their culture and how they work towards the benefit of the community and not just the individual.

It shows the importance of focusing on not just one individual disadvantage in society, but all of them. In that, I mean it shows how Native American tribes have been impacted by alcoholism, poverty, poor work and educational opportunities, pushed off of their land, given limited resources for food and water, and experienced higher rates of sexual exploitation. By showing all those aspects, it adds layers to the book and allows for the Chippewa tribe's culture to be a part of the characters identities in a much more impactful way.

Its writing has a bit of a slower pace, which I also appreciated, as it allowed for more character growth to occur within the story itself. ( )
  Griffin_Reads | Nov 4, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)
Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman is a singular achievement even for this accomplished writer. ... Erdrich, like her grandfather, is a defender and raconteur of the lives of her people. Her intimate knowledge of the Native American world in collision with the white world has allowed her, over more than a dozen books, to create a brilliantly realized alternate history as rich as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. The Night Watchman arrives in the midst of an impassioned debate over how American citizenship should be defined. As the author writes in an afterword: “If you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish lives, let this book erase that doubt. Conversely, if you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change those dry words, let this book give you heart.”
 
Louise Erdrich is one of our era’s most powerful literary voices. Whether writing of love, enmity, or ambition, her descriptions feel resonant, yet arresting in their originality. Her portraits of reservation life in the northern Midwest also make her one of this generation’s most important Native American writers. Erdrich’s fictional communities are characterized by intense and ambivalent relationships – of lovers, rivals, and mothers and daughters. Rather than centering on an individual or a single family, she creates networks of families, emphasizing their interrelatedness, their shared past, and the land they inhabit, building a compelling alternative world – one that is always under siege. ... We need more of these stories that recount collective resistance and the small victories that can accompany it, while also recognizing the toll they take (economically, physically, emotionally) on individuals and communities. There’s a need, too, to be more honest about the way our country’s policies have negatively affected generations of Native Americans. “The Night Watchman” may be set in the 1950s, but the history it unearths and its themes of taking a stand against injustice are every bit as timely today.
 
The Night Watchman is indeed historical, thoroughly researched, rich with cultural and topical detail. However, what engages the reader most deeply are Erdrich’s characters: people, ghosts, even animals. As for the human cast, some of them are directly involved in responding to the legislative threat; others just live their complicated, difficult lives. ... Both the story of the tribe and the story of the individual family plumb grim history and circumstances, but the novel is neither grim nor a lament. Rather, it is a tale of resistance, courage, and love prevailing against the odds. Some readers may question such optimism and hope and doubt the tentative, nuanced resolutions achieved by the tribe and Thomas’ family. But any reader in this present, dark winter of 2020 open to reminders of what a few good people can do will find The Night Watchman bracing and timely.
 
The author ... delivers a magisterial epic that brings her power of witness to every page. High drama, low comedy, ghost stories, mystical visions, family and tribal lore — wed to a surprising outbreak of enthusiasm for boxing matches — mix with political fervor and a terrifying undercurrent of predation and violence against women. For 450 pages, we are grateful to be allowed into this world. ... In this era of modern termination assailing us, the book feels like a call to arms. A call to humanity. A banquet prepared for us by hungry people. Erdrich ends the book, in the afterword’s closing, with a kind of blessing: “If you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change … let this book give you heart.”
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times, Luis Alberto Urrea (pay site) (Mar 3, 2020)
 
... modern realism and Native spirituality mingle harmoniously in Erdrich’s pages without calling either into question. ... This tapestry of stories is a signature of Erdrich’s literary craft, but she does it so beautifully that it’s tempting to forget how remarkable it is. Chapter by chapter, we encounter characters interrelated but traveling along their own paths. ... Expecting to follow the linear trajectory of a mystery, we discover in Erdrich’s fiction something more organic, more humane. Like her characters, we find ourselves “laughing in that desperate high-pitched way people laugh when their hearts are broken.”
added by Lemeritus | editWashington Post, Ron Charles (pay site) (Mar 2, 2020)
 
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Dedication
To Aunishenaubay, Patrick Gourneau; to his daughter Rita, my mother; and to all of the American Indian leaders wo fought against termination.
Afterword: My Grandfather's Letters-Aunishenaubay, Patrick Gourneau, was the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Advisory Committee during the mid-1950s, supposedly the golden age for America, but in reality a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power--our traditional religions outlawed, our land base continually and illegally seized (even as now) by resource extraction companies, our languages weakened by government boarding schools.
First words
Thomas Wazhashk removed his thermos from his armpit and set it on the steel desk alongside his scuffed briefcase.
Quotations
Patrice had come to think that humans treated the concept of God, or Gizhe Manidoo, or the Holy Ghost, in a childish way. She was pretty sure that the rules and trappings of ritual had nothing to do with God, that they were ways for people to imagine they were doing things right in order to escape from punishment, or harm, like children. She had felt the movement of something vaster, impersonal yet personal, in her life. She thought that maybe people in contact with that nameless greatness had a way of catching at the edges, a way of being pulled along or even entering this thing beyond experience.
“Holding out through every kind of business your folks could throw our way. Holding out why? Because we can’t just turn into regular Americans. We can look like it, sometimes. Act like it, sometimes. But inside we are not. We’re Indians.”
“But see here,” said Barnes. “I’m German, Norwegian, Irish, English. But overall, I’m American. What’s so different?” Thomas gave him a calm and assessing look. “All of those are countries out of Europe. My brother was there. World War Two.” “Yes, but all are different countries. I still don’t understand it.” “We’re from here,” said Thomas.
“Good thing you don’t have to. I can’t turn all the way into a white man, either. That’s how it is. I can talk English, dig potatoes, take money into my hand, buy a car, but even if my skin was white it wouldn’t make me white. And I don’t want to give up our scrap of home. I love my home.”
Thomas looked at the big childish man with his vigorous corn-yellow cowlicks and watery blue eyes. Not for the first time, he felt sorry for a white fellow. There was something about some of them—their sudden thought that to become an Indian might help. Help with what? Thomas wanted to be generous. But also, he resisted the idea that his endless work, the warmth of his family, and this identity that got him followed in stores and ejected from restaurants and movies, this way he was, for good or bad, was just another thing for a white man to acquire. “No,” he said gently, “you could not be an Indian. But we could like you anyway.”
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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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