Just as luminary writer Louise Erdrich was working on the premiere of the stage adaptation of her novel, "The Master Butchers Singing Club," in fall 2010 at the Guthrie Theater, she received some unwelcome news: She had early-stage breast cancer.
By her own admission, she was terrified that a fate that befalls one of the characters in "Master Butchers" would befall her. Erdrich began a round of aggressive treatment just as the show was opening.
"What was so crazy about that was that I was sitting in the audience with my gorgeous wig on," she said during an interview at a restaurant next to her Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books. "I had just been through surgery and had had my first chemotherapy treatments."
Erdrich is now cancer-free, and her hair has grown back. She thanks her doctors and supporters for helping her into this next phase of her life -- one of grateful exultation marked by exercise, diet-watching and the launch of her 13th novel.
On Tuesday, Erdrich, 58, reads from "The Round House," her gripping book that is the second installment in a trilogy on justice and history. The first, "A Plague of Doves," was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist. The trilogy is about how intergenerational trauma and injustice have changed the family structure, she said.
In "Round House," which is set on a reservation, a woman is sexually assaulted. The official response involves confusion over jurisdictional questions -- whether federal, state or tribal laws govern. The victimization scars many, including the woman's 13-year-old son, who never forgets the injustice and takes the lead in attempting to right this wrong.
For Erdrich, this suspenseful book examines how the past continues to speak to the present, and how we are all trapped in that web of time. The book is innately political -- with sections about legal jurisdiction that she researched at Dartmouth College, her alma mater -- and deeply personal.
"Native women are such a target for sexual violence," said Erdrich. "The statistics say one in three, but it's almost every [native] woman I know."
Erdrich spoke with passion, clearly reveling in her health -- and her role as an author.
She's just returned from Europe, where translations of her books "Shadow Tag" and "The Red Convertible" were released. She turned the trip into a multigenerational jaunt that included her 79-year-old mother, an aunt and her daughter, Persia.
The trip, her mother's first to Paris, was transformative.
"She fought people out of the way at the Louvre to get to see the Mona Lisa," she said of her mother. "She went to Notre Dame, lit candles. And she ate snail. Then we got back to the plane and I just started crying. She did it. From small-town North Dakota, culturally speaking, it's almost like breaking into a Swiss bank."
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390