Thomas Wazhashk is a character modeled on Louise Erdrich’s own grandfather. He is the night watchman at a jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota in 1953. He is also the head of the Chippewa Council and feels the burden of his role when he receives a notice of a “termination” bill being considered by the U.S. Congress. The bill would effectively end the reservation, stripping the occupants of their land and their rights, ending the existence of the tribe. Wazhashk starts a petition to against the bill and manages to scrape a few people together go to Washington with him to speak out against passage of the bill.
Louise Erdrich is a masterful storyteller and her stories always weave together a colorful cast of characters, with several subplots woven through the story. Thomas’s niece, Patrice, works at the jewelry bearing plant, supporting her mother and brother. She is mooned over by both Hay Stack Barnes and Wood Mountain, an amateur boxer, who both feel they are in love with Patrice. Patrice is looking for bigger things in her life, and does not want to be distracted by marriage and a family. Patrice’s mother is old school, keeping to the traditional Chippewa ways of preparing medicine and food. Throw in a few ghosts floating through the story and you will not be able to put this book down. Erdrich’s characters are wonderful, complex, and seem to arrive full-blown. You feel like these are people you know by the time you finish her stories.
Louise Erdrich is an award winning author with sixteen novels to her credit. She has won the National Book Award, the National Books Critic Circle Award, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Read The Night Watchman; perhaps this will be the book with which Louise Erdrich will win the Pulitzer Prize.
The Night Watchman is available on the Ezone as an ebook and audiobook.