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SUNY Oswego names award-winning ‘The Round House’ summer read

OSWEGO — The Oswego Reading Initiative at SUNY Oswego has chosen 2012 National Book Award-winning “The Round House” – Louise Erdrich’s “haunting, powerful” novel about a Native American boy’s search for justice for his mother, as this year’s summer read for the incoming class and the rest of campus and community members who wish to participate.

"The Round House" paperback book cover

“The Round House” paperback book cover

“Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith and stories,” the award citation reads.

This is ORI’s 13th annual book selection, among them last year’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” To accompany the selection, faculty are encouraged to integrate the book into the curriculum and a series of programs, including cultural events and talks, are planned to facilitate discussion and involvement around the title.

SUNY Oswego anthropology faculty member Kevin White, who specializes in American studies and has familial ties to the Mohawks, expressed excitement with the choice.

“With a gripping narrative, Erdrich crafts a story filled with human emotion, legal questions and violence against Native American women in a coming-of age-story with all too common repercussions and outcomes among native women and communities,” White said. “Far too often these issues are not known to the American public, and Native American women, families and communities must deal with these issues as best as they can.”

Search for justice

ORI rarely chooses so-called coming-of-age books, because first-year college students often have read them already, said Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi, chair of the committee.

Yet “The Round House” is far more nuanced than many others and illuminates Ojibwe life and longstanding Native American concerns, among them jurisdictional issues that most Americans rarely hear about and don’t understand, he said.

The committee “goes through a pretty rigorous process,” Mohammadi said. “We survey the campus and do a lot of reading and discussing. As we’ve done in the past, the committee believes this book has enough connections to the curriculum that many faculty would feel comfortable bringing it in to their plans.”

He called the New York Times bestseller — which some reviewers called “a Native American ‘To Kill a Mockingbird'” — fascinating and revealing of what life would be like on a reservation, in this case an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota.

The novel recounts the story of 13-year-old Joe, who grows frustrated with the official investigation of the beating and rape of his mother, Geraldine Coutts, who was left traumatized and reluctant to relive what happened.

Joe sets out to find answers on his own, with his friends Cappy, Zack and Angus.

Mohammadi said the book’s twists, intrigue and unique voice should hold readers to the end, ready to discuss the text in classes and events. He said the committee reached out to Erdrich, but learned that the novelist is not traveling and does not plan to appear on campus as some past ORI authors have done.

Erdrich, whose heritage is Ojibwe as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, has written 14 novels, including the bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Plague of Doves,” as well as volumes of poetry and short stories and a memoir of early motherhood.

Some of her other novels from Harper Collins are “The Bingo Palace,” “The Beet Queen” and “Four Souls.”

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