Book Review: “Ceremony” by Leslie Silko

Ceremony was hard to read; but I’m glad I did! It is the story of Native Americans from New Mexico and their experiences as they traveled through their lives. Participation in World War II; and how that changed people fighting as they were for a government that many certainly did not love and for a country that so many feel they had lost – and rightly, obviously so. And how hard it was when the war ended and many returned home, changed, to a situation that is as unchanging as the petrified forests of the southwest. It is also a little hard to read, because it doesn’t follow the normal pattern of fiction, with a beginning, a plot and an end. It is almost a series of anecdotes and reflections that are not pegged in time but in the impressions of the main characters as they bounce around – thinking of their lives. It is very much the story of the Indians of America. The story of Native Americans is a hard one and a sad one – it goes without saying. We all recognize that in equal measure as the immigrants thrived in the United States, the Native American communities suffered. Not only military defeats as tribal armies lost against the superior numbers and weaponry of the newly arrived; but also as civilizations collapsed and spirits were broken. I say this, because this is what this novel is about. The struggles of a people who have had their spirits destroyed, and all the terrible social consequences this entails. Alcoholism, rape, stigmatization, violence. The “pure socialism” of the reservations denying any need or opportunity to overcome. Often times these days in the United States the progressives and their “social justice warriors” are focused on righting past wrongs, real and perceived. The case for the Native American communities is perhaps the most stark – and complicated, because the past is already written. Certainly, in the fight for control over the continent the European immigrants won and the tribes lost. History moves about in tidal waves of power and purpose and violence and loss. Tales of conquest, the advance of civilizations across the world and the building of empires juxtaposed against the travails of the vanquished. This is the nature of the world, whether we like it or not. That does not keep us from feeling sorrow and wondering what we can do; how we can work to improve the lot of people in a country that should be inclusive but remains a hard place for so many who very truly were defeated and sidelined. I am from Arizona, and have come and gone from the reservations; and I certainly mean no offense as I recognized that this is the hardest of topics. And I have no easy answers either. For all this reason I applaud Leslie Silko for writing this important novel – and I encourage you all to read it. Leslie does a great job of telling the story, with sadness and bitterness and a sense of loss which is natural and pure.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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