Review: Ceremony

by Leslie Marmon Silko

ISBN-13: 9780140086836
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 3/28/1986
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272

While “Ceremony” is not a new book, it is a classic Native American book, with lots to teach us about the concept of coming home, and ceremonious ideology. Leslie Marmon Silko is Native American. She has written a book that still to this day, has me baffled as to the brutality with which some people live, and how that brutality perpetuates throughout the years to others.

Okay, what is it about? You HAVE to read it thoroughly, without blinders, and without racial prejudice, and without your quaint little life, if that is what you have, and open yourself up to a host of experiences you never want, things that hurt and maim, and wound the soul. Then, and only then, you will understand what is meant by “Ceremony.”

Many may feel this book is disturbing, I know my son did. Nevertheless, I cannot help but love the way Silko creates such intense psychological consciousness in her characters. Imagine the heart spilt work that goes into such narration from the mind of a creative master fo character and plot. The book was a great one for me. I felt I understood like never before the real plight and sense of loss of the Native American who tries desperately to “fit” into the contemporary and dominant culture, especially when they have gone to war and found that they must fight an enemy that looks much like them, but they must align themselves to an “ally” who has historically been abusive to their own lives and the lives of their families before them, in the taking, ravaging, pillaging, and destroying of their own identities and family members. So identity is a biggie in this book.

These Native American soldiers of WWII fought the Japanese, but can never really feel they belong to the White Americans to whose nation they DO–even more so–belong. For all intents and purposes, they are a “mixed breed.” While America is filled with mixed races now, at the time, and still for many, it is a sore subject, because a mixed breed never feels quite like they belong to either side; never any one group fully. I know, I experience that myself, being a mixed breed person.

I can identify with those feelings, and understand the sense of loss in spirit and identity: it happened to the First Indians, the Aztecs, MY ancestors. But I am far enough removed, by about four to five generations, to not feel the wound as deeply. This was where I first heard the idea of the “hollow” man, even though I had read T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men.” I thought it was a European make only. Now I know it is a universal wound of the soul, and to many (like thee characters) a mortal blow. Now, the image of a “hollow man” from within, from these two encounters with it, I am familiar and understand the term and the value of its tremendous effect on humanity.

In Silko’s book, “Ceremony” and in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men” both authors are speaking of an emptiness inside by having been robbed of spirit.  But reading “Ceremony” gives such a deeper rendition of what it means to be hollow, as Tayo, the main character, learns in the plight of his coming home and resuming life; he sees everything and we see it all through his eyes as he learns first hand how the wound affects his ability to thrive in well-being.

I will never forget the plight of this young man, and I can never truly forget the plight of any race who suffers at the hand of another race, for money and power, at the cost of the original people’s’ peace and fullness of life. I understand the settlers in America did it (they say) for Christian ethics, but I do not think that is true. Those who abused these people, calling them savages or animals, were devoid of the true Christianity. They were instilled with fear and hatred for anyone and anything that did not look like them. For their period of abuse to the Natives of this land, those Natives suffer long after. Such an eye-opening read.

About L.Nolan, Editor

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