Monday, February 16, 2015

Diverse Books / Banned Book / TBR Pile: Ceremony

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is about a man, Tayo, of mixed race (Laguna Pueblo and Mexican) returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the Vietnam War. His cousin, Rocky, (with whom he was close, more like a brother) was killed in the war, and his uncle, Josiah, died while they were gone. Tayo jumps around in time, flashing back to horrible scenes of war and his past as a teenager helping his uncle raise their cattle. It's all jumbled in his mind. And as the rest of the veterans on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation drown their troubles in alcohol, Tayo tries to find a better, more permanent solution.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Melissa Jacoby;
cover art: Portrait by Bennie Buffalo, 1976)

First Impression: Silko's language is dreamlike and earthy. As with many American Indian authors I've read, there's a magical quality to her writing that intrigues me. It's not so present here as in Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie, but it's still there. I hesitate to specifically see this as a trait of writing from American Indian authors, however, not having read enough to give a strong opinion on the topic. The most unique quality I see in this book is Silko's time variation. She jumps between moments of shared significance rather than following a consecutive timeline. Likewise, she introduces characters when it serves a purpose; the reader doesn't meet every character right away. I found the time switches confusing at first, but I like the strange piecing together that happens as a result. I feel as Tayo feels and see as he sees. This is a very different aspect of PTSD than I got from The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, but I really like it.

Conclusion: There's a calm intensity that came over me while I was reading this book, and it really set the tone for the story. Silko writes of the surroundings/setting as they relate to the main story, but also in a way where it seems they have their own story. Time has a relational quality that makes complete sense with a main character who has PTSD. The ceremonies mentioned are not the showy dances an outsider might expect, but rather the realistic life ceremonies an insider might take part in to balance a situation that has become corrupted and difficult. Silko produces fantastic, well-rounded characters. I have my favorites, of course, but I appreciated the nuances of all of the them. Even the side characters had great depth! The ending is believable because these men have been to a brutal war and come back scarred. They all have scars of some type, even Emo, who seemingly just goes crazy with blood lust. I was holding my breath for a little bit at the end, so I guess I am relieved (although sorry for one character) with how it ended. This book was fantastic. Knowing that Silko's poetry is good as well, I'm sure I'll be reading more of her work.

Quote: "He tasted the deep heartrock of the earth, where the water came from, and he thought maybe this wasn't the end after all" (p 46, Penguin Books paperback, 1977).

Ceremony is my first read for the We Read Diverse Books Challenge 2015. The first topic was "Race." This is also my second read for the Banned Books Challenge 2015, and my third read for the 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. Let me know what you're reading so far this year!

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