Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dark Beauty, Bright Terror

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dark Beauty, Bright Terror

Article excerpt

WHEN her first novel, "Ceremony," appeared in 1977, Leslie Marmon Silko, then not yet 30, was hailed in the New York Times as "without question ... the most accomplished Indian writer of her generation." Several years later she received a five-year "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, and readers and fellow writers eagerly awaited an equally impressive second work from the young novelist.

It was a very long wait, indeed. The MacArthur grant ran out before she was half finished. In retrospective notes on the effort, Silko recalls that she "was still not sure how the novel would end or even if I could get control of these characters and force them to move toward an end."

At long last, "Almanac of the Dead" has been published, and it is apparent why it took 10 years - and why, coincidentally, it's appearance now is timely.

The book is a massive indictment of the impact of European discovery, exploration, and colonization of the Americas. It takes place for the most part in the not-too-distant future, when drought, corruption, and ecological damage due to overdevelopment have brought political and social instability to the southern border of the United States and the beginnings of a massive uprising of native Americans from Mexico and points south.

The cast of characters is long and their relationships are complex. Drug dealers and mafia types, corrupt police and judges (Mexican and American), homeless Vietnam vets and gun runners, reservation Indians, revolutionaries. They are almost without exception moral, emotional, or physical cripples.

Woven throughout are bits of archaeological evidence, myths, and conjecture showing how Indian tribes many hundreds of years ago predicted (some say to the day) the arrival of Europeans and - more intriguing - how "it was only a matter of time and things European would gradually fade from the American continents."

One of the main themes is how fragments of the history of natives from South America and the southwestern United States, particularly the record of indigenous native American uprisings, have been preserved and passed down, as well as the ability to foretell events. …

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