Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Ceremony of Healing

Ceremony is a novel written with a poet's sensibility.

The language is rich, textured and symbolically precise. No image is simply descriptive: each bears witness to an unfolding cycle of story telling where an individual's journey of healing is set within a wider, sacred story.

Tayo is a half-breed - a 'fallen' Indian mother mated with an unknown white man and before her death from alcohol and depression handed her son to her sister and her husband, brother and grandmother. Tayo grows up with his cousin, Rocky, the bright star of his mother's eye, in contrast to Tayo's ongoing witness to failure.

But it is Tayo who comes back from the war - broken by the trauma of being a Japanese prisoner of war - back to the reservation where his friends (also veterans) drink to forget not the war but their new status as discarded veterans, no longer 'honorary' white folk but back to marginalised no good Indians.

In a complex, beautifully wrought, tale Silko takes us on a journey into both the myth of the Laguna tribe and how re immersion within it slowly heals Tayo. Both the tribe and the land give him back his life. The livingness of that land, its eloquence, is one of the most haunting features of the text. We live in a living world that we constantly find ways of disregarding imagining it inert.

This giving back is also painted against the background of the original stories of the community finding their heart and rejecting the imposition of the white man. In order to do so, they must be living stories - told and re-told and transformed in the telling. The old ceremonies, the author, Leslie Marmon Silko, suggests are ineffective precisely because they have not adapted to the coming of the white man. Resistance is not in freezing traditional patterns but in creative renewal.

It is a book of both compassion for its characters and of anger for the way people have collaborated in their own repression.

I cannot thing of a text that captures the complex relationship between the dominant society and the marginalised one and what it feels like at the margins - especially the hoping to belong to the culture of the dominator and yet the shame and pain of that hoping.

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