The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

It is some time since I read this book but I will never forget it.  It appalls me now to realise that while I was avidly watching all the ‘Cowboy and Indian’ programmes on the TV, the Native Americans were struggling to live decent lives in horrendous conditions on their reservations while the US government was proposing, with or without their consent, terminating their tribal existences to begin life as ‘Americans’.

Louise Erdrich won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel based on the letters and experiences of her grandfather, a nightwatchman at a factory on the edge of his reservation and leader of the Chippewa Council fighting against Termination, as it was called.

The story revolves round the nightwatchman’s daughter, Pixie, who works to support her mother and alcoholic father, while trying hard to save money to go to Minnesota to find her missing sister.  Her experiences getting to Minnesota and her existence once she’s there make harrowing reading but like so much of the story they are based on fact, as explained in the Afterword.

That apart, it is not a depressing read, but a fascinating account of how these people led their lives, in abject poverty but with all the human emotions and relationships to be found in any community.
I found it a fascinating and thought-provoking read.

[We have a copy of The Nightwatchman in the library]