Top positive review
The Past is Not Only Alive it’s not even Past
Reviewed in the United States on March 6, 2020
The Night Watchman is an impressive literary feat. Written to preserve the memory of the US government’s attempt to close Indian reservations in the 1950s, only a small part of the book is actually devoted to narrating this controversy.
Instead it mostly focuses on the struggles of a young Native American woman. Can she find her lost sister, what is her romantic future, what to do with her deadbeat father, etc.
Through these interwoven narratives, Erorich breathes life into an Indian reservation in the post war era. It’s not an idealized image: poverty, violence and alcoholism do run rife throughout the text.
But it is a proud community conscious of a tradition and culture that long predates the European settlement.
And this is where the text is most impressive. In terse and uncomplicated prose, the story unfolds as if the imagined universe of the tribe is real. Just as Christian literature may cast angels and demons as characters, The Night Watchman makes the spirits, mythologies and shamanism not just literary ornaments but key drivers of the story. Look, for example, to the characters’ participation in the tribe’s creation myth, the presence of benign and malignant ghosts and the way shamanism is able to reveal key plot elements.
Given the extent to which cultural genocide has been perpetrated against Indian heritage, this is a much needed act of preservation. In some ways, The Night Watchman continues the effort of the characters to preserve their reservations; the book becomes a means by which Indian culture can be preserved and transmitted.
In short, crisp prose combined with a deep grounding of the book in a tribe’s collective imagination makes for a book worth reading.