The Night WatchmanLouise Erdrich

The Night Watchman

4 star

Total 662 Ratings

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich Book Summary




Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.

The Night Watchman (Louise Erdrich) Book Reviews

The Night WatchmanWhat I liked most about this story was gaining a glimpse into the Native American psyche. I especially enjoyed learning that they see humor in almost everything, but their expression in Chippewa doesn’t always translate well into English. I found this story very compelling as the author creates a marked level of angst when members of the tribe go to Washington D. C. to face lawmakers, who were seeking to destroy them. Their many struggles and hardships to survive on the reservation is a good reminder of what our government has done to Native Americans as a whole. Other stories within the book also show despicable levels of exploitation. Yet, despite all of the many horrors some of their members faced, the tribe goes on loving and supporting each other and finding joy, gratitude, and respect for nature. The characters experiencing these things did not indulge in self-pity or bitterness. It is a lesson for us all..Score: 5/5

Characters that Stay with You for LifeWhat a beautiful book. As with all of Erdrich’s books, filled with characters that stay with you long after memories of people you’ve known have faded. Stories that honor the complexity of humans making their way through life. Mysticism,not about things that are unreal, but about very real things normally just outside our reach. I didn’t want the book to end..Score: 5/5

The PeopleAn amazing collection of characters and their idiosyncrasies all woven together with detail and heart..Score: 5/5

The Night WatchmanI found this story enlightening and informative. I probably haven’t read any stories about the American Indians since HS. I was an elementary kid when the event in the book took place and only recently a friend mentioned to me about the elimination of tribes and the poverty problems. I just happened to be browsing from a publishing website and The Night Watchman appeared as a result of my search for something new and different. The author does a great job describing living conditions, education limitations and shortage of jobs. Despite all of the obstacles this small village faced it’s people came together to present to Congress a plan to keep their heritage and continue to build a future. If you like American history I’m sure you will enjoy this view into the lives and some of the challenges of the American Indians..Score: 4/5

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