The Night Watchman
WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WASHINGTON POST, NPR, CBS SUNDAY MORNING, KIRKUS, CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Erdrich takes a haunting trip into American history in this rich, layered, wildly imaginative novel. In 1953, Congress is debating what it calls an “emancipation” bill that it claims will grant Native Americans expansive new rights. Thomas Wazhashk, the night watchman at a factory adjoining a North Dakota reservation, and other members of the Chippewa Council see this as an attempted takeover of their reservations and erasure of their ways of life. Meanwhile, teenage factory worker Patrice is planning her own emancipation: a life-changing trek to the most dangerous streets of Minneapolis in search of her missing older sister. Erdrich centers Thomas’s and Patrice’s stories in a vividly realized world of Chippewa teachers, boxers, and graduate students, where visitations of spirits are as much of a fact of life as the ever-present dangers of alcoholism and abuse. Based in large part on Erdrich’s own grandfather’s fight against that 1953 Congressional bill, The Night Watchman is both deeply personal and an insight into timeless human truths.
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.