Review / “He who watches” (2022) by Louise Erdrich – Bulles de Culture

Louise Erdrich, of Ojibwe Indian origin through her mother, is one of the great authors of the American literary world. He who watches, published in January 2022 in the excellent Terres d’Amérique collection by Albin Michel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, pays tribute to the Chippewa community. Book reviews and reviews.

The one who watches : a tribute to the Chippewa community

Under the leadership of Thomas Wazhashk (inspired by the author’s own grandfather), the Turtle Mountain reservation, located in North Dakota, near the Canadian border, opposes the policy of termination proposed by Arthur Watkins, Republican senator, voted on 1er August 1953 as Resolution 108 by the United States Congress. “As usual, we were trying to get rid of them to solve the Indian problem.”

Using rare material, that of the correspondence of her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, Louise Erdrich weaves a novel full of energy where a multitude of characters come to life in this deprived place crossed by solid values ​​and ancestral rites. Whether they are children, grandchildren, teenagers or adults, all belong to a community, all are Chippewa Indians, also called Ojibwe. Between solidarity, fidelity to a cultural heritage, which are transmitted from generation to generation, they live or more exactly survive with a few meager government subsidies, parked on restricted and arid territories, their unique riches conceded by treaties threatened by new political orientations. .

Under cover of emancipation, their lands will be taken back, no more specific aid will be granted to them. All they have to do is blend in and get lost in big cities like Minneapolis, where many of them who have left the reservation are already vegetating in the slums of this metropolis where the word Indian is synonymous with operation. Fortunately He who watches, Thomas Wazhashk, chairman of the tribe’s advisory council, works as a night watchman at the local clockwork stone factory where his niece Patrice, who hates being named Pixie, is also employed. Knowing how to read, between two rounds Thomas can dissect the newspapers and flush out the villainous texts which want to attack the existence of Turtle Mountain and other Indian nations. He had to organize a resistance, plan trips to Fargo then to Washington, develop a solid political and economic argument.

Alongside Thomas and Patrice, a young woman of nineteen “incredibly smart”, willful and reckless, a multitude of characters with depth and assertive personalities enriches this realistic novel where the needy remain proud and combative. So Rose, the wife of The one who watches nicknamed “muskrat” in Chippewa, keeps her husband on the right path, supports him when necessary in his work or forces him to stay away from alcohol, a real scourge on the reservation. At his side emerge the lovers of Pixie, totally insensitive to their multiple solicitations. Refusing marriage and children, she keeps Lloyd Barnes at bay “tall guy with thick blond hair like wheat”, mathematics and boxing teacher, as well as his Indian pupil, Wood Mountain, a true colossus with a tender heart. There is also Zhaanat, Pixie’s mother, who holds at arm’s length a family deserted by her husband, a violent alcoholic, and Vera, her eldest daughter who disappeared in Minneapolis.

In her house, made of odds and ends, on the ground, without any convenience, like Rose she is the cornerstone that guides and protects her loved ones. And there is also Biboon “the frail old man”the father of He who watches, and the girlfriends of Pixie, Valentine and Doris, and so many others to discover. All these very different characters, full of life, hopes, in interaction, are found from chapter to chapter, more or less long, enriching the description of this endearing community crossed by small jealousies, pettiness and above all humanity. With a direct, very descriptive style, the daily life of this community is perfectly restored from birth to death, with illness, appearances of ghosts, dreams, beliefs, alcoholism, racism, resistance to oppression.

Opinion on the book?

Driven by clear writing, multiple actions, He who watches, in no way a treaty of ethnology, is simply a novel, not didactic, where it is pleasant to slip. In his afterword and acknowledgments Louise Erdrich, to whom Sarah Gurcel must be associated for her excellent translation, in a few words summarizes that “Of all the tribes on the initial termination program list, the Turtle Mountain delegation was the first to put up fierce resistance and prevail. »

Learn more:

  • The one who watches, Louise Erdrich, Albin MichaelJanuary 2022, 560 pages, 24 euros
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Review / “He who watches” (2022) by Louise Erdrich – Bulles de Culture