Author: Leslie Marmon Silko
Pub: Penguin, 1977
Genre: Literary Fiction
First, I must admit, I knew nothing about Ceremony when I picked it up (via Bookmooch, me'thinks). I was perusing through some forums seeking recommendations for the broad generalization of "magical realism" when this title continued to pop up. See how easily I am sold when on a mission motivated by curiosity.
The cover, normally, would not have appealed to me.
It was short, so I dove right into its pages earlier this year. I'd been through a reading slump of sorts and a smallish book seemed to be what I was looking for. Needless to say I was NOT expecting a journey.
And Ceremony is DEFINITELY a journey.
This book reads like a dream. Even though Tayo is our young narrator, I swear there are moments when I began to believe I was a part of the Ceremony. (So yes, think of an academia Nightmare on Elm Street sorta experience or possibly The NeverEnding Story?).
So, what's Ceremony about? In a nutshell, Tayo and his best friend join the military and leave their indian village. The idea of fighting in World War II was not Tayo's idea. He would have been content working within the village. There is definitely an element of "Being an Outsider" that plays into Ceremony time and time again. In this case, Tayo was an outsider because he didn't really want more than what his village offered. His friend, however, knew that the military was his way out.
Unfortunately, Tayo is the only one to return, and much like the other Native Americans in his village back from the Great War, he is considered crazy and a drunkard. Which is only partly true. There are times when he acts crazy. And gets drunk. But only partly.
There's not a lot of time spent on the war (which pleased me because I'm not one to usually read war novels). The war scenes are all done in flashbacks and sometimes flashforwards which makes you feel sometimes lost and other times as though you are on a fast roller coaster without know which side is up. So yeah, kind of like real like, huh?
And then there's the prose....I remember reading somewhere that a whole bunch of Native Americans got their underwear in a wad because they thought Silko was exposing too many sensitive details about their spiritual world and stories. The prose is magical. And the Native American stories within Ceremony are utterly gorgeous.
I know the catch phrase with this book is: it's not only entitled Ceremony, reading it *is* a ceremony. Sounds pretty hokey, yes? I KNOW! But.... but... it's kinda true.
I mentioned earlier that there is definitely an ongoing theme of "Otherness" in Ceremony and it's true. It's everywhere. Tayo, upon his return, is the "Other" who made it back alive. He fights his own demons and then is separate from his own people. Larger than Tayo's singular experience, the idea of "Other" as Native American also presents itself.
Ceremony speaks more about the integration of a culture that was forced out of its land and then made to feel second rate because of it. It's about Tayo coming to terms with his HERITAGE as well as the KILLING of war.
Ultimately, it's a pissed off at the world kinda book that leaves the soul at peace.