As I was reading The Night Watchman, the novel was announced as the recipient of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is well deserving of the honor. The tale centers around a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s. The main character, Thomas Wazhashk, is based on Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Goureanu who took the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota to Washington D.C. If history had been taught to me using tools like well researched historical novels and personal narratives along with pages of names, dates and, now it seems, many misleading facts and interpretations, I would have developed an interest in delving deeper into the discipline long ago. I have so much catching up to do. Luckily there are many worthwhile and interesting works available to help me out–both fiction and nonfiction. This is one of them.
The story captures life on a rural reservation during the 50’s through the lives of well developed characters who come to life on the page. Their stories and their legal worries are intertwined demonstrating how the personal really is political. The impact of oppression is lived out in the experiences that result as a consequence, and that impact lands deeply in the heart and soul of this reader due to the masterful storytelling abilities of Erdrich and her talent as a writer.
The novel includes political strategizing, but there is so much more. It’s the story of marriages that survive in brutal circumstances and those that fail. There’s a missing young woman and her sister’s heroic efforts to find her. Add in romantic entanglements including the difficulties of a young white lovesick high school teacher (who is also a boxing coach—something for sports fans). There are even ghosts and dreamscapes much like the ones shared in Joy Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave.
I’m so glad I finally read something by Louise Erdrich. The Night Watchman is a literary gem.
Good BINGO news—I read the *info., and the title fits in the QTBIPOC category.