Review 1592: The Night Watchman

There is always something that keeps my attention in Louise Erdrich’s books, although often they are very sad. In 1953, the United States Congress announced a program of “emancipation” of more than 100 First Nations tribes that was expressed as a program to put indigenous people on an equal footing with other Americans but was actually a way to yet again abrogate treaties and take land. Louise Erdrich’s grandfather helped save the Turtle Mountain Chippewa from this fate all while working full-time as a night watchman. The Night Watchman is Erdrich’s novel about this event.

Thomas Wazhashk, a member of the tribal council, receives a copy of the bill and figures out its intent from its bland, bureaucratic language. He gets the council to collect signatures on a petition and begins collecting information to support the tribe’s stance that its members are too poor to care for themselves so local authorities will have to take on the burden if the federal government doesn’t, this obviously a ploy to get support from state and local authorities to oppose the bill. While he works, he is visited by an owl and the ghost of an old friend who died as a boy after being imprisoned in the basement of a state boarding school.

As usual with Erdrich, aside from the main plot, the novel is full of interesting characters and subplots. Pixie Paranteau takes time off from work to try to find her sister Vera, who has vanished in Minneapolis after leaving to marry her boyfriend. On the train, she encounters Wood Mountain, a young boxer on his way to a fight, but when the fight is cancelled, he decides to make sure Pixie is all right.

Millie Cloud is the woman whom Thomas asks to share the results of the survey on the living conditions of the tribe that she wrote for her doctoral dissertation. She is socially awkward and dresses in geometric patterns.

This novels felt more hopeful than some of Erdrich’s even though it also contained scenes of brutality. My attention was engrossed by it.

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6 thoughts on “Review 1592: The Night Watchman

  1. Jane December 22, 2020 / 12:32 pm

    I like the sound of this, I read Love Medicine earlier this year by Erdrich and am keen to read more

    • whatmeread December 22, 2020 / 12:39 pm

      Her books are usually very good. This one was one of her best, I think.

  2. Izabel Brekilien December 23, 2020 / 9:54 am

    I loved her Miracle of the doves, that was the first of her novels I read and I want to read more. Added this one to my TBR, thank you 🙂

    • whatmeread December 23, 2020 / 11:32 am

      I hadn’t heard of that one, so I looked it up. The Plague of Doves. Thanks! I’ll have to read it! I thought I’d read most of her books.

  3. ilovedays December 24, 2020 / 9:25 am

    I love Erdrich’s work. The Master Butchers Singing Club and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse are the two best of those of hers I’ve read. Do you think this one is as good?

    • whatmeread December 24, 2020 / 11:40 am

      I read The Master Butchers’ Singing Club so long ago that I can’t remember it, and I missed The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, so I’m going to have to look for it. I think this is a really good one, though.

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