Book Review #18: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (2020)

Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Night Watchman: A Novel*
Author: Louise Erdrich
Published: 2020 (HarperCollins)
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Native American, Literary Fiction, Heritage
Link Here

Copy of The Night Watchman sitting on my book shelf

When he needed to calm his mind, he opened a book. Any book. He had never failed to feel refreshed, even if the book was no good” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

I hope everyone is staying sane and healthy this week! Honestly, books have been a comfort to me during these uncertain times, and hopefully I keep that viewpoint until the end of this crisis. But for now, stay inside as much as you can, and curl up with a new book.

The services that the government provides to Indians might be likened to rent. The rent for use of the entire country of the United States” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

Back to The Night Watchman, I loved this book! I was really excited to read it when I saw the book was coming out this year. What makes this book truly special is that its based on the story of the author’s grandfather, who fought for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Reservation when US Congress announced the House Concurrent Resolution 108 bill in 1953. This bill would have “terminated” involvement and nation-to-nation treaties with the Reservation, which more or less threatened to break up the tribe and their land. The bill was disguised as a “relocation” program for the tribe, and to help them better themselves by dropping government support. But it really would have broken up the tribe and land for the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to sell, among other consequences. This novel tells the story of Gourneau’s (or his character’s name, Thomas Wazhashk) involvement in fighting the bill as tribal chairman, and as Erdrich describes, his “extraordinary life”.

you never really knew a man until you told him you didn’t love him. That’s when his true ugliness, submerged to charm you, might surface” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

This novel was compassionately political and human all the way through. The story jumped around to the different character’s struggles and points of view, from members of the Chippewa tribe to Mormon missionaries. The author’s take into the lives of the tribe as a fictional backdrop for what was going on politically was educational and insightful. The characters grapple with growth and all the other problems that come along with life.

In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million acres of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee, led by Ada Deer, regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman


I appreciated the Afterward and Acknowledgements the author wrote as well. It was wonderful to read about how this book became a tribute to her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, and to keep the Reservation’s story alive. Native Americans still suffer from the consequences of having their land taken from them. This novel emphasizes what occurred in the 1950s, but Erdrich drives the point home in her Afterward that talking about injustice, even if its in the past, is still important so current and future administrations can bring about change and learn from the past.

Lastly, 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, The Night Watchman

Overall, I thought this book was beautiful and elegantly written. I recommend it if you’re looking for a novel surrounding community, politics and love on a struggling and close-knit Native American Reservation.

I give this book a 4 out of 5!

_Elizabeth

*DISCLAIMER: The Night Watchman contains violence, sexuality, alcoholism & sensitive subjects

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