TITLE: Gardens in the Dunes AUTHOR: Leslie Marmon Silko DATA: Simon & Schuster, 479 pages, $25
Review by Patrick Smith
This novel is a dense, rich narrative that limes the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in fertile gardens lovingly nurtured by the protagonists, Sister Salt and Indigo.
Sister Salt and Indigo are Sand Lizard people, remnants of a tiny Southwest tribe. They await the return of the Messiah, a central figure in American Indian religion, who will restore their lands and culture. But, followers of the Messiah, who danced in anticipation of his return, were in danger, murdered by settlers who feared Indian uprisings. killed by the Army.
When the dance, and thus the Messiah's return, is impeded by the authorities, the wandering of Indigo and Salt becomes a quest for wholeness, a search for a unique place that welcomes reunions of the flesh and the spirit.
Silko is ambitious in intricately describing the gardens -- all kinds of gardens, from the American Southwest to the Mediterranean -- and the lives of a handful of characters physically separated but inextricably intertwined with one another.
Salt, whose resourcefulness allows her to become successful after she and Indigo have been uprooted, lives by her wits. Indigo, sent off to an Indian school by the authorities, escapes and is taken in by Edward and Hattie, well-to-do scholars who take Indigo with them to Europe to search for rare plants. Edward is a master of gardens, although he uses his knowledge for purposes that run counter to the life-giving qualities of the gardens in the dunes. He intends to build a business based on the cultivation of plants that he harvests in exotic places. He cannot fulfill Hattie's need for an understanding partner. …