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The Night Watchman
Cover of The Night Watchman
The Night Watchman

WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

WASHINGTON POST, AMAZON, NPR, CBS SUNDAY MORNING, KIRKUS, CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING BEST BOOK OF 2020

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.

WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

WASHINGTON POST, AMAZON, NPR, CBS SUNDAY MORNING, KIRKUS, CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING BEST BOOK OF 2020

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.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 16, 2019
    Erdrich (Love Medicine) returns to North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Reservation for this stirring tale of a young Chippewa woman and her uncle’s effort to halt the Termination Act of 1953. Pixie Paranteau takes a leave of absence from her job at the Jewel Bearing Plant to search for her sister, Vera, who was last seen in Minneapolis. Though she fails to find Vera, sparks fly between Pixie and a promising young boxer named Wood Mountain. Pixie then travels with her uncle Thomas, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee, to Washington, D.C., where he testifies at a congressional hearing on a bill abrogating treaties with Indians and abolishing Indian tribes. Also accompanying them are graduate student Millie Cloud and the ghost of Thomas’s boyhood friend Roderick. 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 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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 15, 2020
    In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life. Erdrich's grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a "pompous racist" in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel's protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she's saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel's most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city's underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas' boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice's heart. A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • AudioFile Magazine Performing her latest audiobook, author Louise Erdrich delivers a rewarding listening experience based on historical events of the 1950s. Erdrich tells the story of how the U.S. Government targeted the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation, seeking to dissolve its treaty with the tribe with banally written legal documents. Members of the tribe are not fooled by this move to force them off the land. One tribe member, the watchman referenced in the title, takes what time he can find to write letters and organize against the state. Throughout, Erdrich performs her cast of characters with empathy. Listeners will be drawn into the minutiae of everyday life as the mounting crisis builds. S.P.C. � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine
  • Booklist

    Starred review from January 1, 2020
    Patrice, 19, supports her family by laboring at the jewel bearing plant and splitting logs to heat their humble home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and it is Patrice who journeys to Minneapolis to search for Vera, her missing older sister. Thomas is the plant's night watchman and the guiding conscience in this spellbinding, reverent, and resplendent drama by the paramount storyteller of the northern plains. In her sixteenth novel, a work of distinct luminosity, Erdrich based soulful, disciplined, and witty Thomas on her grandfather. Accordingly, Thomas is a member of the Chippewa council, and deeply concerned about a 1953 bill pending in the U.S. Congress that threatens to terminate the legal status of their Chippewa band. As Patrice ventures into the horrific underworld she fears has claimed Vera, Thomas writes perfectly penned letters to federal officials, and marshals the community?destitute but for their cherished land and culture?for a trip to Washington, DC, to ensure that their voices are heard. Each risky mission to confront insidious forces endangering Chippewa lives and heritage generates a stream of involving, concurrent stories of longing and love. Through the personalities and predicaments of her many charismatic characters, and through rapturous descriptions of winter landscapes and steaming meals, sustaining humor and spiritual visitations, Erdrich traces the indelible traumas of racism and sexual violence and celebrates the vitality and depth of Chippewa life. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling and much-honored Erdrich is at her radiant best in this dramatic tale, which will be promoted with a national tour and a barrage of publicity.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2020

    Erdrich's fiction has always been informed by her Anishinaabe roots, but this novel is truly personal. Drawing on her grandfather's letters, written while he was tribal chairman, Edrich re-creates a shameful chapter in America's history when Congress introduced a bill to terminate the treaty rights of Native tribes, which would force assimilation and pave the way for a land grab. Members of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, led by the fictional Thomas Wazhushk, a night watchman at the local jewel-bearing plant, travel to Washington to protest. With him is his sharply observant niece Patrice Paranteau, who supports her family on wages from the plant yet yearns for an education and a future unfettered by men and babies. In Erdrich's hands, daily life on the reservation comes alive, the crushing poverty and lack of opportunity tempered by family cohesion and the wisdom of the elders. She acknowledges the scourge of alcoholism and exposes traffickers who prey on naive girls drawn to the cities. VERDICT National Book Award winner Erdrich once again calls upon her considerable storytelling skills to elucidate the struggles of generations of Native people to retain their cultural identity and their connection to the land. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]--Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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