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National Book Award Goes to Louise Erdrich for The Round House

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Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House has won the National Book Award for fiction, the National Book Foundation announced on November 14.

“This is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations,” she said in accepting the award, according to The New York Times. “Thank you for giving it a wider audience.”

The Round House, Erdrich’s 14th novel, chronicles the sleuthing attempts and coming-of-age experiences of 13-year-old Joe as he attempts to tease out the details of an attack on his mother, one that she is too traumatized to talk about.

“Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared,” the National Book Foundation’s description reads. “While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own.”

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Their search leads them to the sacred Round House, where the attack happened, and the ensuing tale reads like a gripping thriller. Among other issues, the novel depicts the problems inherent in murky jurisdiction when it comes to investigating and persecuting crimes. In the novel, as in real life in Indian country, determining whether the attack has occurred on tribal, state or federal land impedes investigation and prosecution.

Erdrich, who gave part of her acceptance speech in Ojibwemowin, co-owns the famed bookstore Birchbark Books in Minnesota, along with sister Heid Erdrich, also a writer, and founded the Ojibwe-language imprint Wiigwaas Press. All six Erdrich siblings are enrolled members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

About 670 attendees saw this 63rd incarnation of the National Book Awards, The New York Times reported, notable this year because the National Book Foundation’s offices, flooded during Hurricane Sandy, are still closed.