Friday, April 16, 2010

Ceremony (1977)

Right up front, I've got to say that Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony is one of the best novels I've ever read. I don't read much fiction any more--especially contemporary fiction--because I'm so often disappointed by novels. But Ceremony is extraordinary. I had the novel on my bookshelves for a long time (I don't even know where I got it, it's been so long), and I finally picked it up for vacation reading because it's a slender paperback and easy to carry. Ceremony is not your typical "beach read." It's demanding, but confidently and beautifully written, and rewarding.

The novel recounts the story of Tayo, a young Native American, who was held prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, and the horrors of captivity that almost crushed his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation west of Albuquerque only increases his feelings of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution.

Tayo's quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats Tayo's most virulent affliction: despair.

The novel is set in the Laguna Pueblo Reservation and in Gallup, New Mexico. Silko includes beautiful, memorable descriptions of the Southwestern landscape and its effect on her characters. It's not "nature writing," but parts come damn close.

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