Book Review: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony follows the story of Tayo, a Native American who fought against the Japanese during World War II. The horrors he witnessed in the war have left him sick and restless, and he cannot settle into regular life upon his return. His fellow soldiers take to alcohol and violence to deal with their experience, an the people around him blame the white man, but Tayo seeks a deeper way to heal.

The novel incorporates flashbacks and snippets from stories, legends that have been passed down through Tayo’s people. Tayo seeks help from a wise man and learns that his struggle is more than just personal: the problems he faces are more than just “White Man” versus “Indian.” He learns there is a darker witchcraft at work in the world, one meant to affect all people in all places. He learns that all people are connected and that ceremonies change; they must change. Through his journey, he integrates stories and rituals from the past with his experiences in the modern world.

I enjoyed the opening of the novel, the author appealing to a muse as well as an iteration that stories are the most important thing: when stories are forgotten, the world is in danger. The novel itself becomes such a story.

There were times reading it when I thought, “Where is this even going?”, but I kept reading, and I started to see how the pieces were fitting together. The last half of the novel read very quickly. It’s a literary work–one that can be analyzed in depth, and the way it all comes together makes the read worthwhile. Now that I know where the novel is going, I plan to re-read it and see from the start how all the pieces connect. In some ways, reading the novel becomes a ceremony—one that can be repeated to insure a better understanding and one that demonstrates the importance of stories.

The novel reminded me of a short story I’d read, “The Man to Send the Rain Clouds.” I had forgotten the short story was written by the same author! In fact, I also plan to read her book Almanac of the Dead . Ceremony is not an easy read, but the payoff is worth the effort.