First few paragraphs – is the theme to be survival like the young trees described through the North Dakota winter – this is on the first few pages.
The Native American first person narrator, Joe now a middle-age prosecuting attorney, is remembering 1988, when he was , when his mother was attacked and jurisdiction added a serious complication to the “case.” Joe and his parents live on a reservation (the Yoknapatawpha, which Erdrich writes about in prior novels) in North Dakota situated near a State Park, but the attack possibly took place on “fee land.” She was found near the “round house,” a sacred place to the tribe.
The narrative includes many common Native themes – racism, old land treaties, feuds, drinking, poverty, abuse, adoption, others, but never so heavily as to overpower the story or even seem to direct it. The fact is that these things are pervasive on reservation life and the book would be incomplete in some way without them.
In any book with an over-riding theme(s), there’s usually a certain amount of coincidence – in this case Sonia finding the money is one – there might be others, we’ll see.