American Must Reads: Leslie Marmon Silko’s, Ceremony
by Dr. Cristina Rodriguez
Assistant Professor of English
There are so few books that feel like an event when you read them, where you seem to enter a realm of magic outside normal space or time. Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977) is one of those rare books.
In the opening lines, the reader learns that the story is what Thought Woman, the Laguna Pueblo goddess of creation, is thinking. “You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories,” readers are told.
Ceremony goes on to give us many stories, chief among them the tale of Tayo, a mixed-race Laguna who returns to his New Mexico reservation traumatized from World War II. Caught between white and Laguna worlds, between killing the enemy and feeling brotherhood with the enemy, Tayo must reconnect with the stories of his people and take part in a ceremony in order to heal.
His ceremony becomes the book’s ceremony, and the readers are inscribed in a global community that must learn what Tayo learns: we are all in a myriad of ways, like filaments in a spider’s web. Silko weaves folklore and war stories into a vivid depiction of the Southwest, providing a window into the beauty of Native American culture as well as the violence continuously committed against it by the “witchery” of a white world that pretends we are all separate.
The novel is both hypnotic and stirring. Translating oral storytelling into written words, Silko encourages us to recognize our universal kinship, keeping the ceremony going, in the pages and beyond.