04 April 2015

Prudence, by David Treuer

This novel is set from about 1942 - 1952, mostly in northern Minnesota. The Washburns, Emma and Jonathan, own a summer house--"The Pines"--on a lake. Jonathan, a physician, spends only a little time there, but Emma goes for the whole summer. They employ a caretaker named Felix, who is a Native American. Several other Native Americans are among the characters, including Prudence, of the title.  (Mr. Treuer is a member of the Ojibwe tribe.)

The Washburn's only son, Frankie, comes to visit just before he is about to ship out with the Army Air Force as a bombardier. Just before his arrival, a prisoner escapes from the newly-constructed prison camp not far from The Pines. Local people have formed search parties, and Frankie is eager to search for "The German." 

The tragic accident that occurs at this point is the focus of the novel, which gives a good picture of what life might have been like in this area during World War II and the years right afterward. There is also an unavoidable comparison between the Holocaust and the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans by the European invaders of America.

Review and audio from NPR's Fresh Air

Washington Post Review

More than once it has occurred to me just how often the firing of a gun determines the course, outcome, or resolution of a piece of fiction. This novel is no exception.

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