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The Night Watchman

Review

The Night Watchman

I eagerly dove into this new book by an author I love, and she did not disappoint. THE NIGHT WATCHMAN is honest, mystical and immersive. Based on history --- and the role that Louise Erdrich’s grandfather played in that history --- the story absorbs the reader into the characters’ homes, lives and minds such that the point-of-view shifts are seamless, and we walk alongside each person throughout.

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN takes us to Turtle Mountain, right into the poverty, love and challenges of the Chippewa tribe. I tasted and smelled the foods, heard the unfamiliar language, winced at the punches, felt the wet, cold, fear and joy, and experienced the visions, miracles and connection to Earth, spirit and humanity. Erdrich shepherds us through humanness at its best and at its worst, ultimately uniting us.

"This clever, artful and compelling novel tells an important story, one to open our hearts and minds. If you’re looking for a book that is smart and discussable, tender and painful, riveting and elegant, you’ll find it in THE NIGHT WATCHMAN."

Set in the 1950s, in Erdrich’s own family home reservation in North Dakota, the main plot line follows Thomas Wazhashk (the character based on her grandfather), the tribal Advisory Committee chair and the night watchman of a jewel-bearing plant. During the long nights of trying to keep himself awake, he writes letters and strategizes how to contest a new Congressional bill that sets out to terminate Indian treaties and Native American rights under the guise of offering them freedom. He identifies strengths in his community members and calls on them to fight for their land and their rights. His niece Pixie, who is trying to get everyone to call her Patrice, has another goal: finding her missing sister while managing an alcoholic father and the competing affections of two young men. The story takes us to Minnesota and Washington, D.C. in pursuit of these objectives.

Erdrich’s writing is the kind that makes writers swoon, admire and envy. Her prose and storytelling are masterful and stir that feeling of dismay: How could I ever write with such grace and beauty? Her style is poetic with splashes of humor and wit, and her characters are real humans with complex worldviews, complicated relationships and uneven emotions. They are fully revealed to the reader without authorial judgment. In fact, THE NIGHT WATCHMAN could be used as a study in character development for writers --- it’s that deft.

This clever, artful and compelling novel tells an important story, one to open our hearts and minds. If you’re looking for a book that is smart and discussable, tender and painful, riveting and elegant, you’ll find it in THE NIGHT WATCHMAN.

Reviewed by Leah DeCesare (www.leahdecesare.com) on March 27, 2020

The Night Watchman
by Louise Erdrich

  • Publication Date: March 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062671189
  • ISBN-13: 9780062671189