Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize and based on the life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather, this novel—set in 1953—explores the Chippewa community of Turtle Mountain Reservation: Thomas Wazhashk, the titular night watchman of the local jewel bearing plant and Chippewa Council member, seeks justice for his tribe in Congress, while Patrice struggles to support her impoverished family and search for her missing older sister.
In this season of literary wildfires, when cultural borrowings have unleashed protests that have shaken the publishing industry, the issue of authenticity is paramount. Erdrich retakes the lead by offering the reader the gifts of love and richness that only a deeply connected writer can provide. You never doubt these are her people. The author...delivers a magisterial epic that brings her power of witness to every page. High drama, low comedy, ghost stories, mystical visions, family and tribal lore — wed to a surprising outbreak of enthusiasm for boxing matches — mix with political fervor and a terrifying undercurrent of predation and violence against women. For 450 pages, we are grateful to be allowed into this world ... I walked away from the Turtle Mountain clan feeling deeply moved, missing these characters as if they were real people known to me. In this era of modern termination assailing us, the book feels like a call to arms. A call to humanity. A banquet prepared for us by hungry people.
Erdrich’s career has been an act of resistance against racism — the hateful and the sentimental varieties — and the implacable force of white America’s ignorance. In one powerful book after another, she has carved Indians’ lives, histories and stories back into our national literature, a canon once determined to wipe them away ... The Night Watchman is more overtly political...but it’s a political novel reconceived as only Erdrich could ... As usual, modern realism and Native spirituality mingle harmoniously in Erdrich’s pages without calling either into question ... This tapestry of stories is a signature of Erdrich’s literary craft, but she does it so beautifully that it’s tempting to forget how remarkable it is. Chapter by chapter, we encounter characters interrelated but traveling along their own paths ... This narrator’s vision is...capacious, reaching out across a whole community in tender conversation with itself. Expecting to follow the linear trajectory of a mystery, we discover in Erdrich’s fiction something more organic, more humane.
That a family history forms the novel’s skeleton is fitting, because it is a sense of family that holds the whole story together ... What is most beautiful about the book is how this family feeling manifests itself in the way the people of The Night Watchman see the world, their fierce attachment to each other, however close or distant, living or dead ... [there is a] dark strand running though the book, and through the American story—one that, for all its chauvinism, Erdrich frames with remarkable care.