The Night Watchman

by Louise Erdrich

Hardcover, 2020




Harper (2020), 464 pages


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)

Media reviews

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
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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.”
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.”
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... 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
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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.”
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No one can break your heart and fill it with light all in the same book — sometimes in the same paragraph — quite like Louise Erdrich. She does it again, and beautifully, in her new book, The Night Watchman. Erdrich is one of our best American novelists; her gorgeously written, deeply humane
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books are a compelling history of the long dance between indigenous and European cultures that has shaped the nation. ... Erdrich’s writing about the bonds of marriage and family is one of the greatest strengths of her fiction. She captures all the affection, teasing, pain and forgiveness it takes to hold a family together. As Thomas tells us, “You can never get enough of the ones you love."
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Erdrich captures the Chippewa community’s durable network of families, friends, and neighbors, alive or dead, including Pixie’s alcoholic father and wise mother, who live in poverty. The heartbreaking conclusion to Vera’s story resonates with the pervasive crisis of missing Native American
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women, while Thomas, Wood Mountain, and his trainer rally to put together a match to raise funds for Thomas’s efforts to keep their land. Erdrich’s inspired portrait of her own tribe’s resilient heritage masterfully encompasses an array of characters and historical events. Erdrich remains an essential voice.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
A rich, engaging story grounded in both history and Chippewa faith traditions. Even though Thomas is based on Erdrich's grandfather, Patrice may be her finest character yet. I highly recommend this book and certainly believe it will hold up in Erdrich's canon.
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Louise Erdrich’s usual character-driven powers are in full force here. Told from the points of view of Thomas, a leader of the Turtle Mountain Reservation tribe of Ojibwe people in Montana, and Patrice, a worker in a jewelry bearing plant, the
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struggles to stay warm and fed are seemingly surmountable until, in 1953, a proposal is made to "terminate" the tribe's treaties with the federal government and to sell off the tribe's land. Thomas knows that the action would mean the destruction and scattering of the tribe to the Twin Cities, and he calls upon every resource to fight and win the case. Patrice is also grieving the disappearance of her elder sister Vera, who took off to the cities to get married and is abandoned and kidnapped. The most charming misfit is Millie, a serious student of anthropology who lives constrained by her autism limitations and boundaries until she is called upon to bring the results of her studies to the hearing in Washington, with Thomas and Patrice. An incredible and often forgotten historical event occurs the day before the hearing, and Thomas becomes ill right afterwards. The story is based on the author's grandfather's honorable life, and the tension of not knowing if he will be successful shadows the lovely portraits of families of the reservation. The novel is filled with beauty, sorrow, and joy, and worthy of the honors earned.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
A beautiful timely book that goes back into Erdrich's family stories to show how one determined, kind man -- a character based on Erdrich's grandfather -- can save his tribe from termination. The family stories are as wonderful as any Erdrich has written, and bring readers into homes and hearts of
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the Turtle Mountain people. That a tribe has been threatened with termination in March 2020 makes this novel all the more important.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Give me a novel based in fact and a setting in a place I'm not familiar with and I am all in. And if it's written by Louise Erdrich, all the better. Her latest novel, The Night Watchman, is based on the life of her grandfather, an American Indian who fought the federal government when they tried to
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take away the land of his people in North Dakota in the 1950s.

The man based on her grandfather is Thomas, a night watchman in the jewelry making factory in a Native American homeland in North Dakota. Thomas is also on the Turtle Mountain Advisory Commitee that oversaw the area, and between both of those jobs he spends as much time as he can with his loving wife Rose and their children.

Thomas becomes concerned when he learns that the US House of Representatives is considering a bill that would end support of the Native Americans on Turtle Mountain, effectively forcing the residents there to leave their homes and move to the big city to find jobs to support their families. Selling the land would violate a treaty signed with the tribe years ago, and Thomas rallies the people to petition the government to honor their agreement and defeat the resolution.

Patrice is a young woman who works in the jewelry factory and lives with her mother, drunken father, and siblings in a rundown home. She works hard and hopes to get a promotion so she can earn more money to support her family.

When her older sister, who had married and moved away to the big city, disappears, it is up to Patrice to find her. Her journey to the big city brings her into contact with men who take advantage of young women, and Patrice has to use her wits to get out of more than one jam.

She has two men back home who want to date her, although she doesn't want to date them. Wood Mountain is a boxer who ends up on her train to Minneapolis, and he decides that he should keep an eye on her. Barnes is the math teacher who wants to be her boyfriend.

Every character in The Night Watchman is interesting. Thomas, Rose, Patrice, Wood, even the secondary characters like the Mormon missionaries who attempt to convert the Native Americans, are so fully realized, you find yourself wanting to know more about each of them. Erdrich writes in each of their voices brilliantly.

Erdrich packs a lot of story into her lovingly crafted novel, and you learn a lot about life on Turtle Mountain in the 1950s- the traditions, the food, the culture, the family connections. The scenes set in Washington DC as Thomas and Patrice and others go to meet with congressmen, are also fascinating.

The Night Watchman is a book to get totally immersed in, and in a time when most of us can't leave our homes, it's great to be taken somewhere else for a day or two. It's especially appealing to those who like history. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich, author and narrator
In the novel, according to the author, Thomas Wazhashk is very loosely based on the life of her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, who was a member of the Turtle Mountain Indian Tribe in North Dakota. He worked as a night watchman in a factory. A
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Chippewa Indian, he actively fought against the law intended to “terminate” the American Indians so as to remove the burden of American responsibility for their care. In the book, the Chippewa joined together, led by the character Thomas, to prevent the government from forcing them to give up their heritage and the little land they still retained. After many treaties and agreements were made and then rescinded or rolled back, they had very little land left, and they intended to keep it and their identity.
When the story begins, while Thomas fights to preserve the Chippewa, Pixie, (Patrice) Paranteau, his niece, is searching for her sister Vera who had supposedly moved off the reservation to take advantage of the government’s job training policy. She and her baby have disappeared from Minneapolis. Pixie becomes involved with some pretty unsavory characters in Minnesota, and sometimes I think her experiences pushed the envelope of belief. Pixie was portrayed as a meek, mild-mannered young woman, and then she suddenly turns into this street-wise, worldly fighter without the benefit of any experience to justify this change.
So the two themes run concurrently, Thomas Wazhashk’s efforts to thwart the American Congress’s efforts to, as he believes, “exterminate” the Indian Tribes and the effort of Pixie to find her half-sister Vera and her child. At times it seemed to ramble in its presentation in order to support one or another social or subtle political issue. The “white man” is presented in a terribly negative light as hypocritical, self-serving, highly devious and manipulative with no good intentions. The American Indian is presented as highly moral, near perfect, intelligent and G-d-fearing, always attempting to be hard working, clean, honest and upstanding, albeit with the few exceptions who appear lazy and apt to drink, coupled with those boys and bullies that took advantage of the weak, (like the government) using their power unjustly to cause harm. Sometimes superstitious beliefs seemed to control the outcome of certain events.
The author used magical realism throughout the story with thinking animals that took on anthropomorphic attributes, characters that interacted with ghosts, and characters and dogs that had psychic ability and she even endowed “old man winter” with the ability to think and act. There is definitely a spiritual thread that runs through the book that contains aspects of several religions, including the Indian’s unique faith.
The American Indians have been uprooted, slaughtered, manipulated and taken advantage of for years. The “Trail of Tears” is a testament to that. The book seems to have been intended to illustrate and illuminate that issue, as well as to point out that people have the ability to join forces and stand up together to fight the corruption of government. For me, the book itself goes off on a bit too many tangents in order to expose the abuse; however, it is a worthwhile read because it encourages further research into Native Indian history and into the issue that is the plight of many minorities today, the feeling of powerlessness. The novel takes place in 1953, and our culture, way of life and government were very different then. The ability of the strong to take advantage of those weaker, in many ways, however, remains today.
The best thing about the book is the author’s way with words, although, in this book, there may have been too many that were perhaps not well chosen, since some of the dialogue seemed childish and seemed to demean the Indian, almost making them caricatures, which I am certain was not the author’s intent.
I would say the worst thing about the novel is the author’s choice to read her own book. It is read a little too slowly and with way too much emotion which often seems inappropriate. Her voice become too sultry and soft and drones after awhile causing the listener to zone out or lose interest periodically. I was not sure I would be able to finish listening to the book, but I soldiered on because of the nature of the story, but truth be told, I hope I didn’t miss anything with my occasional lapses of interest.
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LibraryThing member fromthecomfychair
Other reviewers on Librarything have mentioned it, but it bears repeating, and though it is the last paragraph in the Afterword, it could just as well be the first paragraph: "Lastly, if you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish
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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's own grandfather Thomas's fight to save Chippewa tribal lands during a 1950s era land grab by the US government, forms the center of this fictional tale. But through many other character's voices, we learn about the lives of the people on the reservation, their joys, sorrows, downright tragedies and comedies. I felt deeply for these fully realized characters. I wanted to visit them in person. How does the author do it? Fully deserving of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
When I first started reading, I thought this might be a collection of short stories. However, about a quarter of the way in, the stories begin to collide and it's clear that the development of each character was deliberate and perfect. Pixie is smart, sexy, good at her job, and in her spare time,
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she chops wood. She made me love the novel even though I think Erdrich's main character, Thomas, may be the hero. He's also smart, but more than that, he's clever. He understands and has a gift for helping others understand. But like Pixie, he's more than that. He's funny and utterly in love with his wife, Rose.

Erdrich weaves her culture into the stories in pockets through the novel making it deeper, richer and shows not only her gift for storytelling, but her love of her family. These were some of my favorite parts of the book.

Lastly, there were parts where the actions slowed and my attention wavered. Keeping the characters straight was difficult at times, but at the end, I decided that didn't matter. I do intend on rereading this at some point to focus on these side characters and draw me more into their stories. I listened to the audio for a few parts of the book and that may have been the issue.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. I love Erdrich's writing and this is not my favorite of hers, yet I loved it.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
Last summer my husband and I met with the Blue Water Indigenous Alliance to donate an heirloom bible given to my husband's fourth-great-grandmother by John Riley, Ojibwe chief of the Black River Band. The bible is currently on display in the Port Huron Museum and will become part of a new museum
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highlighting native heritage in the Port Huron area.

The 1826 New Testament had been published by the American Bible Society without a binding. Someone encased it in thick, rich brown leather held together with coarse thread. The book has a gentle curve as if kept in a back pocket for a long time, the edge of the book worn away.

My husband's great-great-grandmother read that volume daily until the day of her death, and that made it special to her family, but to hold an artifact that once was in the pocket of their ancestor and kin was even more sacred to those of Native heritage gathered to accept it.

I have often thought about that meeting. For all my research on John Riley and my reading about Native American history, after that meeting I felt my otherness and my ignorance. I read the white man's histories and think I know Riley. What arrogance.

Reading The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich reinforced my awareness of ignorance born of privilege in a European dominated society. I had never heard of the Indian Termination Policy being carried out just after the time of my birth. Natives were to be assimilated with all the rights of an American citizen. It was intended that individuals find work and become self-supporting and pay taxes. Reservations were taken out of Native control, health care and education no longer provided. Life was harsh before termination; it got worse after termination. It was 'extermination' under a new name.

Erdrich's novel is based on her grandfather's life and his successful endeavor to block the termination of the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

The night watchman is the hardworking hero of the story, a family man who works nights at the new factory that employs Ojibwe women to perform the delicate job of creating jewel bearings. He is determined to protect their reservation and people from termination, working around the clock and raising money to travel to Washington, D. C. to present their case before Congress. Their way of life, their community is threatened. They feel a deep connection to the land that supported their ancestors since time immemorial.

Patrice is one of the young Ojibwe women working at the factory. The job allows her to support her mother and brother. She dreams of going to university to study law. She tries to blend into European society but encounters racism and sexual harassment. Two men vie for her attention, unaware of her naivety about relationships and sex and desire.

When Patrice's sister Vera goes to the city disappears, she goes takes all her savings to look for her. It is a nightmarish trip into the depravity of the underside of the city, a place where young native women are vulnerable prey. She returns with Vera's baby.

It is hard to write about this novel. It left me with strong feelings, including deep shame for how the prevalent European society has treated Native Americans since we landed on these shores. Erdrich does not exploit our feelings, there is no melodramatic writing when describing chilling scenes of exploitation and abuse.

The courage and strength of the characters is inspirational. I loved how one love storyline was handled, showing that true love is communal and not about personal desire.

Fiction can educate and enlarge our limited experience. And I thank Erdrich for furthering my understanding.

I was given access to a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
“Long as the grass grows and the river flows.”

This book just grabbed right ahold of me - my heart, my mind, and my spirit! I hated putting it down! Her writing... my goodness! The description of the quilt of patches, and the origins of the materials is just wonderful! And her characters are so
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alive! I felt for them all! Pixie (Patrice), Thomas, Wood Mountain, Zhaanat, and even the ghost, Roderick, all had a strong hold on me. And whether it was boxing, making love, suffering, or fighting to save the Turtle Mountain Reservation from "emancipation", I was hooked by everything that they did! It was a pleasure to read, and a sorrow to finish.

"Together they drank the icy birch water, which entered them the way life entered the trees, causing the buds to swell along the branches."

Honestly, to me, that is word magic!
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Five years ago I was introduced to the writing of Louise Erdrich by reading The Master Butchers Singing Club. This historical novel of Germans in America won me over and while it has been too long since, I now have returned to Louise Erdrich with her historical novel about the battle of her
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indigenous people for their rights.

In this story we find Thomas Wazhashk, the the night watchman of the title, working at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. Thomas 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. He wonders, 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"? While anyone who has read about the history of the relations between the indigenous tribes and the steady encroachment of American settlers will not be surprised by these events, it is disturbing that they are happening in post WWII America.

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. Her very real characters speak simple, but truthful words, all the while fighting a Federal Government whose words are duplicitous.

Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a moving work of both personal and historical fiction whose story has both sadness and a positive spirit that finds its source in family and community.
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LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Set in the 1950s, this story resides in the literary area of fictionalized memoir (though written about a family member’s experiences) or historical fiction. Erdrich writes about the struggle of a Native American tribe (the Chippewas) to retain the land on their reservation. This land was deeded
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to them in perpetuity by the United States government. However, U.S. Congress sought to disregard (discard?) these treaties and to take over autonomous land. The fight to overcome this blatant theft results in the tale of this book.

Along the way, the author cleverly crafts stories of the lives of Native Americans and reminds non-Native-Americans of their shared humanity. She shares stories of a boxer seeking to have more meaning in life than just sport, a beautiful, aspiring, and smart young lady with little economic opportunity, a college student seeking an academic career, a young lady caught in a web of drug addiction and sexual abuse, and an aging night security guard laboring to save the ways and lives of his people.

The story varies points of view from several characters. Although this has the effect of diminishing suspense, it simultaneously builds intrigue into the larger culture of Native Americans. The reader cannot help but empathize with these strong characters. Erdrich’s effective characterizations help the reader to see beyond race into shared humanity. To use a musical metaphor, the result is less of a short song and more of a resounding symphony of voices that function in a crescendo. Readers encounter a people and a culture, not just a lone protagonist. The Chippewa people themselves are a collective protagonist.

I recommend this book to those who seek to jump out of the narrative that white people have the only dominant voices in America. While themes of the inhumanity of slavery resound in contemporary societal discourse, African American voices are not alone; the Native Americans continue to suffer from having their continent – their home – stolen from them, with little recompense. This story reminds all readers of their perspective, told by Erdrich, one of their own. It is deeply moving, hopeful, and persuasive.
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LibraryThing member deeEhmm
Louise Erdrich's style and narrative choices are a perfect illustration of how a clear, minute vision expressed simply can make uniquely devastating art. The novel swings from frustrating political tension to the hidden horrors of human trafficking to White obtuseness with perfect clarity and
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boundless tenderness, even for the silly Barnes, lovesick for the nonexistent Native woman he's projected onto Patrice Paranteau: the beatific maiden depicted on a butter carton. It's pointless to try to summarize the interweaving of the on- and off-reservation worlds, the richly varied pantheon of characters. The book must be read, not summarized. A slice of contemporary American history you've probably never seen before, rendered without sentimentality but with a lot of love.
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LibraryThing member stevesmits
Quite a remarkable true story is fictionalized by Erdrich, centered around her grandfather who in the mid-1950's led an effort by the Turtle Mountain band of the Chippewa tribe to lobby against a bill in Congress to "terminate" the tribe's status under Federal law. This would sever the treaty that
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granted land and various supports by the U.S. government. The ostensible rationale of the proposed law was that the Indians were no longer in need of government aid, and, instead, would be offered opportunities to relocate to urban areas where they could take advantage of "greater opportunities". Such a bold-faced abrogation of treaties, the measure was really intended to make their land available to whites.

The novel revolves around two principle characters with many others who make the story fascinating. Thomas (Erdrich's real grandfather) is the night watchman at the jewel-bearing plant near the reservation, a light industry that employs many of the Native Americans, mostly women. Pixie (or Patrice, her real name she insists on being called) works at the plant and lives with her mother Zhaanat in a nearly primitive house, occasionally visited to the dread of the family by their drunken and abusive father. Patrice is smart and ambitious. She is admired (unspoken but plainly obvious) by Lloyd Barnes, a white teacher at the reservation school. Barnes is a boxing coach for Wood Mountain, a young man who also longs for Patrice. Patrice's sister, Vera, has disappeared into Minneapolis after heeding an invitation to find greater opportunities there. Patrice travels to the city to find her and experiences bizarre and dangerous interactions with men, one of whom persuades her to don a mermaid costume and water dance for ogling patrons of a bar. She does not find Vera, but through several supernatural omens believes that Vera may have been subjected to sex trafficking. She does find Vera's baby and brings him back where Wood Mountain becomes as devoted to the infant as any father would be.

Thomas is indefatigable in organizing the tribe to prepare a presentation before the Congressional committee considering the bill. The tribe has few resources to assist them in this, but succeed in advancing a petition to Congress and raise funds for the trip to DC through a boxing match which features Wood Mountain against a well-known white opponent. The testimony before the congressional committee results in the bill's failure, this outcome mirroring the actual history.

Vera escapes from enslavement and finally makes her way back to the reservation. Wood Mountain loses his infatuation with Patrice and falls in love with Vera. Barnes never appeals to Patrice, but courts other young women in a fumbling way.

This summary does not do justice to the richness of this work. The lives of the Turtle Mountain, their poverty, their deep shared identity, the long history of betrayal is deeply portrayed. There are occasions of spiritual, even supernatural, visions experienced by many of the characters. One of these involves visions Thomas has from time to time with Roderick, a ghost from their time at the "assimilationist" boarding schools in place to strip Native American children of their culture. Roderick died of tuberculous at the school, but he continues to visit Thomas. The intimate relationships of the Indians with their surroundings -- animals, plants and the land -- are beautifully conveyed by the author.

Two minor characters are introduced in almost a comic relief, mocking way. Morman missionaries are making futile attempts to proselytize the clan members who are mostly Catholics, but are imbued heavily with their inherited perspectives on the spiritual world. The racist, demeaning Morman theological view of Native Americans -- the Lamenites -- is skewered.

Another interesting character is Millie, a Native American college student who has mostly distanced herself from the tribe. Millie, who is described as Asperger's-like in her obsession with geometrical patterns of dress, has done an anthropological study of the clan and is called on to help prepare and present the case to Congress. Millie forms a bond with Patrice and there are intimations that Millie will help Patrice find the means to further her education, something that Patrice clearly longs to do.

Erdrich has said that her inspiration was reading the letters and documents of her grandfather. His commitment to preserving the culture and lands of the Turtle Mountain clan is inspirational. It is said that it wasn't until the presidency of Richard Nixon that the impetus to terminate the treaty relationship between the government and the tribes finally ceased.

Erdrich has written many fine novels around themes of Native Americans and this ranks among the best of them.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
As Erdrich says in her 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
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give you heart.” Based on her grandfather, this is the story of a Chippewa man who used his boarding school education to fight for the rights of his people. As in other Erdrich stories there is a central story but its also filled with stories of others. For example, Pixie, who is related to Thomas, the night watchman is searching for her sister who was abducted and left her baby alone in a drug filled home. Erdrich shows her skill in weaving an entire solar system of slightly wacky characters among the pages of her book.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I am a huge fan of Louise Erdrich. She is an excellent storyteller. Her plots draw a reader in and foster attachment to her characters. This story, based on the life of the author's grandfather, is about Chippewa Indians from the Turtle Mountains and their effort to thwart a bill in the US Congress
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which would result in termination of their tribe. Yet the book is so much more. It is about knowing one's history, both familial and cultural. It is about the abuses foisted upon Native Americans for as long as the Whites have been in the land. It is about pride in self. Ancestral ghosts accompany the night watchman along the journey. A poignant, spiritual & cultural experience.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Louise Erdrich has long been one of my favorite authors. Her three book justice-themed novels (The Plague of Doves (2008), The Round House(2012), and LaRose (2016), should be required reading for all. In this novel she delves into a personal history that includes the painstaking work of her
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grandfather as he fought to protest the 1953 House Concurrent Resolution 108, which sought to terminate the prior treaty agreements made to the Turtle Mountain tribe of North Dakota. Using his letters as a source, Erdrich weaves together a compelling narrative of his life and the people in it. Thomas Wazhashk works as a night watchman and uses this lonely, quiet time laboriously writing letters to various political leaders trying to garner support for the opposition of this bill. It's a testament to the author that this can become the climatic basis of a novel. Intertwined with this plot is the story of a Patrice, Pixie, Paranteau. She is beautiful, a former home coming queen, now at 19 working at the jewel bearing factory, proud that she has a job supporting her mother and brother. "There were times when Patrice felt like she was stretched across a frame, like a skin tent. She tried to forget that she could easily blow away. Or how easily her father could wreck them all. This feeling of being the only barrier between her family and disaster wasn’t new, but they had come so far since she started work."
Her sister Vera is missing and the search for her and what happened to her is also part of the narrative force. Erdrich masterfully creates characters you care about and learn from, including some that are simply spirits. I always enjoy becoming involved in the life of her people, the kaleidoscope of stories she pieces together, feeling guilty about what our country has forced upon a culture it has subsumed. In her acknowledgment section, Erdrich reminds us "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."
This is another important book by one of our greatest writers. Highly recommend.

Some Lines:
The matted blocks of his long gray hair were tucked into the collar of a sagging army coat. His face was starred with burst veins. His nose was lumpy, purple. He had once been handsome, and still wore a yellowed silk scarf tied like a movie-star ascot.

They were confined on the reservation, and had to get permission from the farmer in charge to pass its boundaries. For a while they were not allowed to go off to search for food, and one terrible winter the old people starved themselves so that the young people could continue.

Louis was a big man, like a buffalo, with a massive head and hunched shoulders. His legs were short and bowed, as if they’d bent under the strain of the top half of Louis. When Louis smiled, his cheeks bunched up like small round apples.

“Sure, back in 1924 we got the vote. After the black man, after the women. But we got the vote.”

Valentine. What a perfect heart-shaped name for a woman whose face wasn’t heart-shaped at all, but thin, a narrow face, slippery eyes. Valentine was a bit sly, like a lady fox. Yes, a dainty lady fox trotting through the woods with a dead rabbit drooping in her jaws. Not exactly . . .

But Arthur V. Watkins was clearly an enemy—of the most dangerous sort: a principled enemy who thought what he was doing was for the best.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
Based on the experience of her grandfather battling the federal government in a land grab maneuver in 1953, Louise Erdrich has once again created an engaging cast of characters.

Pixy, who longs to be known as Patrice, is a young woman who works in the Bulova watch factory where the Native American
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women are employed because of their dexterity with the fine jeweled mechanisms.

Thomas is the night watchman at factory and is also head of the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee when he learns that the US Senate is considering a bill that would "free" the Turtle Mountain Band from the land treaty that created the reservation and was to last "as long as the grass shall grow and the water run". This so called freeing would rob them of their cultural heritage as well as the little that they own and displace them to urban areas.

Vera is the older sister of Pixy, is a parallel thread of the story that demonstrates the exploitation of the Native Americans that are lured to the city.

Erdrich faithfully recreates cultural norms and mores of 1953. The writing is clear and engaging and the characters are lovingly drawn.

I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by the author.
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LibraryThing member ZachMontana
Acclaimed Author and Novel was disappointing to me. I can identify with the bad treatment of Native Americans, but felt this story portrayed them too depressing when many Native people I know are very hopeful even when in marginalized situations of our society. I liked the spiritual portraits but
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felt the author tried to get too stream of consciousness in much of her writing and to me it was often disjointed not relevant or interesting. The style of writing is probably laudable to literary people for it's novelty, but as a reader I thought it resulted in a boring book that was hard to be motivated to read which I did solely because of the high acclaim of reviews. I can't recommend it now that I finished.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman arrives right on time for many Americans as we take a hard look at how our country treats and treated BIPOC. Through a variety of voices and characters, she looks at a Chippewa community in rural North Dakota in the 1950s as they face the government’s most
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recent disgraceful and heinous actions toward indigenous peoples--what would come to be known as the Termination Acts. Based loosely on the life of her grandfather, Erdrich explores themes of family, love, government, freedoms while giving us deeply drawn and memorable characters. The Night Watchman is not an easy book, but it is a rewarding one for readers of historical fiction, US history, and family sagas.
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LibraryThing member juniperSun
The main action revolves around Thomas Wazhashk and Patrice Paranteau in separate yet connected strands. Thomas is focused on his responsibilities: as tribal chairman, as night watchman, as father. Just out of high school, Patrice's job is the only source of income for her family and she is
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struggling to cope with all the work needed to survive, protect herself from her drunken father and other males, find her beloved older sister who has disappeared in the Twin Cities, open up to her spirit knowledge, and discover her own future path.
Thomas's efforts to block federal termination of the tribe, as written here, wouldn't have been interesting enough without Patrice's story to carry us to the end. Erdrich stated she hoped some of her grandfather's humor would come thru in her characterization of Thomas, but I have to say it did not. Mostly he just comes across as stressed out, so the occasional flashes of family time come as a surprise.
Chapters are often brief, giving you windows on the thoughts of many characters in this small community in 1950's North Dakota border. While descriptions of their homes & meals indicate extreme poverty, the people aren't beaten down by it, but find ways to share and help each other.
At the end, I'm left with the feeling that Patrice's story is incomplete. Perhaps there will be a sequel, as Erdrich often does.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
The Night Watchman tells the story of the Turtle Mountain Reservation saving their tribe from termination. It interweaves the stories of their personal lives also. I have never read Louise Erdrich before although I had The Round House on my TBR list for many years.

At the beginning of The Night
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Watchman, I was reading very quickly and couldn't wait to see what happened next. The character development of Pixie and Thomas was very well done. I liked learning about the termination fight and wished that Erdrich would have focused more on that versus the personal relationships of people in Turtle Mountain.

It took me almost two weeks to read this book which is why I only gave it 3 and 1/2 stars. Towards the middle it started to drag and I wasn't motivated to pick it up and see what happened next.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Like all of Louise Erdrich’s novels, The Night Watchman is set in a Native American community in the Dakotas, and draws on the author’s cultural and family history. In 1953, the reservation was threatened by government action which proposed to end “privileges” provided to the tribe and
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relocate them to lands of supposedly better opportunity. Tribal chair Thomas Wazhashk spends his shifts as a night watchman writing letters to officials, and uses his spare time to educate the community and gain their support and involvement to try to block the government’s plan.

Patrice, aka Pixie, has come of age on the reservation and now works in the factory where Thomas is night watchman. Pixie’s sister Vera has disappeared, and Pixie decides to go to the city and find her. The experience opens her eyes to life off the reservation. Although she successfully rescues her sister’s baby, she returns home with only vague leads about Vera’s whereabouts, and her life settles back into a routine involving work and supporting her mother and brother.

While these are the two main threads in this book, there are many more characters and several subplots. Erdrich tells a vivid tale and I enjoyed getting to know these members of the community, But at the same time, it felt like she threw in “everything but the kitchen sink,” which meant that even the dominant threads were not fully developed and the denouement felt rushed. The Night Watchman would have been better if some of the characters and subplots were minimized and held in reserve for future novels.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Set in North Dakota on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, this is a story of multiple people that live and work there. Patrice, always known as Pixie, is 19 and works at a local factory where her uncle Thomas is the night watchman. Pixie's father is a drunk better off gone than around; she lives with
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her mother and younger brother. Her sister, Vera, has left for the "cities" (Minneapolis) and has never been heard of again.

The story has several lines: Pixie's trip to Minneapolis to find Vera and her experiences with some very unsavory characters which leads to some humorous yet sad times: working as a "waterjack" in a rubber ox suit in a bar. Vera has apparently been caught up in the sex trade.

On the reservation, Thomas, the night watchman, as spokesman for the tribe is leading the effort to oppose "Native dispossession" which a US Senator is calling for. This would leave the tribe with no special consideration from the government; they cannot support themselves on their land and if this law passes, all would be lost.

Based on the life of the author's grandfather, the story tells how Thomas and some others eventually go to Washington DC to speak to Congress. Pixie goes along as a representative of a worker at the factory.

This is not an exciting plot with very little tension; rather it is a protrayal of the people that inhabit the reservation and their daily lives, trials, and joys.

This won the Pulitizer - not sure why - It does provide what is probably a pretty accurate look at life on the reservation.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
Louise Erdrich is a writer who has written many books and for me the main focus has been about her novels about Native Americans. She is from that heritage so she writes from first hand experience. This book is based on her grandfather who worked as a night watchman in a jewel bearing factory and
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also as an officer in the Turtle Mountain tribe in North Dakota. The story revolves around the fight in 1953 to prevent the termination act from impacting their tribe. This act would have eliminated federal support for their tribe while moving them off the reservation into the general population. The book is about this struggle to defeat the act, but is told mainly through the characters that populate the reservation. The book deals with many elements of Native American life including the poverty of the reservation, the connection to the spirit life, living off the land, and the sense of community and the desire to keep their heritage. This is a worthwhile read for its historical lessons but it also gives you insight into the Native American struggle against the onslaught of colonial white European destruction of their tribes as they took over the North American continent.
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LibraryThing member Grace.Van.Moer
I love Louise Erdrich's writing, this novel is no exception. Wonderful interwoven characters and story lines. So important now (2020) in the context of systemic racism in the US, not just toward Blacks, but towards Native Americans and all people of color.


Pulitzer Prize (Winner — Fiction — 2021)
Aspen Words Literary Prize (Longlist — 2021)
Dayton Literary Peace Prize (Winner — Fiction — 2021)
Chautauqua Prize (Shortlist)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2021)
Minnesota Book Awards (Finalist — 2021)
Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year (Historical Fiction — 2020)
Great Reads from Great Places (North Dakota — 2020)
Penn GSE's Best Books for Young Readers (Selection — Young Adult — 2020)


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