SINS OF OUR FATHERS

Shawn Lawrence Otto

Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in the Mystery/Thriller Category

John White, aka J.W., is a small-town banker who teaches his associates how to profit from American Indian casino deposits while avoiding risk. But after embezzling funds to support his gambling addiction, J.W. is blackmailed by his boss into sabotaging a competing, Native American-owned bank. As J.W. befriends the family he is trying to frame, his plan to escape his past becomes more dangerous than he could have imagined.

Set in the backwoods of Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Sins of Our Fathers is a gripping tale of loss,

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Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in the Mystery/Thriller Category

John White, aka J.W., is a small-town banker who teaches his associates how to profit from American Indian casino deposits while avoiding risk. But after embezzling funds to support his gambling addiction, J.W. is blackmailed by his boss into sabotaging a competing, Native American-owned bank. As J.W. befriends the family he is trying to frame, his plan to escape his past becomes more dangerous than he could have imagined.

Set in the backwoods of Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Sins of Our Fathers is a gripping tale of loss, power, and the ultimate price of the American Dream.

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  • Milkweed Editions
  • Paperback
  • September 2015
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781571311184

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$16.95

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About Shawn Lawrence Otto

Shawn Lawrence Otto is the writer and co-producer of the Oscar-nominated film House of Sand and Fog. He writes for television’s top studios and his work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, Science, and Salon, among other publications. He lives in Marine on Saint Croix, MN.

Praise

A wonderfully vivid debut.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

Believable characters and a strong sense of place mark this tale of risk and redemption.”

—Booklist

A master class… One key to the effectiveness of Otto’s novel is how cannily he shows the ages-old exploitative methods at work today.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

An unflinching look at America’s original sin.”

—Attica Locke, author of Black Water Rising

Discussion Questions

JW is a banker and a gambling addict. What are the similarities and differences between the two? Are JW’s risks in both domains as calculated as he believes?

Sins of Our Fathers is a crime novel on several levels. What are the different crimes at play here? Who are the criminals? Do all these crimes involve breaking the law?

JW worked as a horse trainer in his youth, and he uses this experience to bond with Jacob as they work together to train Jacob’s horse, Pride. What does horsemanship represent in the novel?

Both JW and Johnny had careers in the banking industry, have troubled relationships with their children, and lost their wives. How have these similar paths affected them differently? How do these similarities affect the development of their relationship?

In what ways are Johnny and Jacob “between worlds,” not fully accepted in either the white or Native communities? Does this shift throughout the novel? How do they each respond to the pressure to act “more Indian”?

The novel explores the relationship between prejudice, justice, and empathy. How are the shifting views of JW and Johnny Eagle with regard to these qualities influenced by changes in how they view one another?

One of the most suggestive objects in the novel is the Chief Onepapa bill, which Johnny keeps locked in his safe. What does this symbol represent, both for Johnny personally and for the novel as a whole?

Throughout the novel, JW tries to reconcile his sense of what is right and wrong with his impulse to protect his own interests. How do you think he defines redemption at these different points in the novel: when he tries to win Carol back; when he helps Jorgensen with his plan; when he begins his relationship with Mona; when he sets fire to the money?

Shawn Otto describes Sins of Our Fathers as an exploration of “race, money, and the American Dream.” How are these three elements intertwined? How does the novel explore the implications of their association?

In the novel, JW and Johnny often reflect on the decisions they’ve made as fathers. The intimate relationship between these men and their children is set against a larger legacy of dishonest land deals, and Indian boarding schools. How do the characters grapple with the ramifications of their own actions, as well as the heritage created by generations of government policies?