What it’s about: Tayo returns home to the Laguna Pueblo reservation from World War II suffering from PTSD and attempts to cure himself by reconnecting with the traditional ceremonies of his people.
Why I liked it: This was a slow read, mostly because the language is very poetic and demands a lot of attention to be paid. In fact, poetry is woven into the narrative at several points, which were probably my favorite sections. The poems relate traditional stories and comment on the events of the main narrative. (I would like to go back and reread the poems by themselves at some point.) Silko pays a lot of attention to the natural environment of the story, and these descriptive passages are among the most beautiful.
The first part of the story shows Tayo’s suffering from his memories of the war, from his lifelong feeling of not belonging (he is half Native American and half white), and from the loss of the two people who meant the most to him, his cousin and his uncle. He is afraid that if he doesn’t get better, he will be confined to a mental hospital. So he goes to a native healer who “prescribes” a ceremony for him.
At this point, I had a little trouble following events and discerning what was real and what was magical realism. This is also the point in the story when a fierce anger toward white people, who lie to Native Americans and to themselves, begins to bubble to the surface. This anger is justified but surprising, given the peaceful, nature-oriented tone of the writing. Tayo eventually finds a way to explain the actions of the whites, but I’m not sure that I entirely believe the anger has been soothed, nor am I convinced that it should be. The final scenes include some shocking violence, which again I wasn’t sure was adequately explained by Tayo’s reasoning.
I think this book demands to be reread. Close attention needs to be paid to the symbolic aspects of the ceremony and to the parallels between Tayo’s story and the traditional stories of the ancestors, which can probably only be done after the initial reading has been absorbed. Only then can this story be fully understood, I suspect.