This week I read Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel, Ceremony. The book gives us a deeper understanding of Native American culture and the racism within and around the reservation. The protagonist, a young man of mixed blood (Mexican & Laguna), and his cousin both serve in WWII and are on the Bataan Death March. The cousin, Rocky, dies on the march, but Tayo returns to the U.S. with severe PTSD. His “friends” on the reservation repeatedly draw him into shiftless, violent alcoholism and belittle him for his parentage, although he has been raised in the Native culture.
This is a rich, heroic story, and I regret not having read it years ago. (It was first published in 1977.) But the cover blurbs unbalance me. Those on the back are generous and they endorse her talent. You might just make out N. Scott Momaday’s words: “. . . her talent is real and remarkable.” The Washington Post Book World calls the novel “exceptional.” Consider though the wording on the front: “Without question Leslie Silko is the most accomplished Native American writer of her generation . . .” The New York Times Book Review. Not a bad comment, but I want help understanding the labeling of her talent as that of a Native American. Silko is an outstanding writer no matter what her background. It’s as if she’s been boxed, separated from other successful novelists. I hope the reviewer meant it as a compliment, but the limitation bothers me. Is this a subtle form of racism?