Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflections: Ceremony

Tayo is a Native-American war veteran who stumbles into his present life after experiencing the horrors of war as a Japanese prisoner during World War II. The violence and morbidness of being in war has left him hanging on the edges of his sanity. His past haunts him relentlessly, and his bitterness grows towards the Army and the Americans who still racially segregate and exploit his people. His family in the Laguna Pueblo reservation try to help him get back on his life through a mystic medicine man. This is a grim narration of Tayo’s journey of healing as he resorts to age-old superstitious rituals and reconnects with himself by establishing his own ceremony to cure his weathered spirit.

The book started off powerfully, but the momentum faltered somewhere in the middle and didn’t pick up pace for me. The tone is morose, and adds to the weight of the subject. Although I was captivated by the writing at first, it became increasingly abstract and disconnected. Silko shifts rapidly between time periods, contexts and characters that half the time it seems like we are in one of Tayo’s disturbed dreams. Silko' s disconnected style of writing, in terms of flashes of memories and threads from the past, doesn’t work well all the time, especially when the narration shifts into the present. The rituals and myths also did not sink into me.... they were far too mystical, abstract and cryptic for me to see how they related to Tayo, or his heritage or healing. In the end, I feel like I haven’t grasped as much as what the author intended to convey, and that’s a disappointment.

I made sense out of Tayo’s main “ceremony” as his way of completing what he had left behind when he had joined the Army. A part of him seemed focused on assuaging his guilt as one way of making peace with his past and facing the present. Silko’s underlying thread throughout the story is the unfairness, hypocrisy and selfishness of the Army and the “white” people, who stoke internal conflicts and misery within isolated Native-American communities, using them when needed and ignoring them and not hesitating to trample on them to meet their ruthless ends.

It’s a powerful theme that could have been fleshed out better if the writing didn’t hover over fleeting boundaries of poetry, and enigmatic mysticism. But as I said, I have perhaps not been sharp enough to pick up on something significant.
Digested thoughts: I am starting this new addition to save readers from the misery of parsing through my review-like-non-review, and wonder what the bottom line is and if it’s worth their time to read this book. So.... I would give this book the following smiley/rating (an elaborated rating scheme is on the side-bar):

 This book did not leave a strong enough impression on me - neither positive nor negative. I liked it for its powerful themes, but the writing, the ancient rituals and allusions to witch-craft were too abstract to hold me down and let me savor the story.


SUMI said...

ha! thank you Neeraja!! :-)

Neeraja said...

Thanks for your feedback! Hope this helps :)