Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko … Bittersweet [Book Experience]


Few day ago, I threw this book after reading 50 pages saying:

This book is very non-linear and full of avant-garde techniques which is pretty hard to grasp for a first time reader of a post-modern novel.

silko 3(Block quoting my own words felt good. :P)

In one word; I gave up. Then I couldn’t move to my next book leaving this book half eaten. So I have read it anyway and I am here writing this Book Experience.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is a post-modern, magic realistic and speculative fiction. It has taken 2 weeks for me to complete this book. Two weeks! And that too for 197 pages.

First of all, this is one of the most difficult books I have read, and the author has done it intentionally.

Shmoop has given it 8 out of 10 in terms of difficulty.

The reason would be that she wants the reader to feel confused and dizzy like her protagonist felt in the beginning. Tayo, our protagonist was a half breed (a cross between white American and native American) and he went to war. He had lost his brother at war and right from the war he felt post traumatic disorder by visualizing his uncle Josiah while killing a Japanese soldier. After returning from war, he felt terrible, he was dreaming always and vomiting all the time. His belly was one hell of a thing; every time something happened, his belly would react in some way or other.

He shivered because all the facts, all the reasons made no difference anymore; he could hear Rocky’s words, and he could follow the logic of what Rocky said, but he could not feel anything except a swelling in his belly, a great swollen grief that was pushing into his throat.


“He didn’t want them to know how sick he had been, how all night he had leaned against the metal wall in the men’s room, feeling the layers of muscle in his belly growing thinner, until the heaving was finally a ripple and then a quiver.”


“The smell of snow had a cold damp edge, and a clarity that summer rain never had. The scent touched him deep behind his belly, and he could feel the old anticipation stirring as it had when he was a child waiting for the first snowflakes to fall.”

You’ll find umpteen numbers of ‘tummy updates’ throughout the novel.

This book is mostly based on folklore and ancient unscientific ceremonies and their contextual impact on modern era. She’s written this book without any specific chapter divisions and jumped back and forth through time within passages. Also, she changes perspective without giving any warning. The whole book is written in flowery prose, poetry like. Even in between long pages of difficult prose, you’ll find poems and hymns. Sometimes a complete side story is told in form of poems.

Up North

around Reedleaf Town

there was this Ck’o’yo magician

they called Kaup’a’ta or the Gambler.

He was tall

and he had a handsome face

but he always wore spruce greens around his head, over his eyes.

He dressed in the finest white buckskins

his moccasins were perfectly sewn.

He had strings of sky blue turquoise

strings of red coral in his ears.

In all ways

the Gambler was very good to look at.

His house was high

in the peaks of the Zuni mountains

and he waited for people to wander

up to his place.

He kept the gambling sticks all stacked up

ready for them.

… and so on.

These are a delight to read and in some places she has used magic realism with such expertise that it never felt she was one of the preliminary magic realist of our time. Like when Night Swan killed her lover (he dies due to trampling of horses in his stable) by dancing in her apartment. And there is always a mysterious and obscure environment throughout the novel. Author tries to describe every minimum and negligible detail and cleverly hides important plot points in between them. That’s why I had to go back and find the phrases that I have missed. Unnecessary stress on minor details has ruined the fun while reading this book.

He continued north, looking to the yellows and the orange of the sandrock cliffs ahead, and to the narrow sandrock canyons that cut deep into the mesa, exposing the springs. He was wondering about the speckled cattle, whether they had pushed their way through the fence and were halfway to Mexico by now. They had been so difficult to control in the beginning; they had taken so much from Josiah.He left the road and took a trail that cut directly to the cliffs, winding up the chalky gray hill where the mesa plateau ended in crumbling shale above the red clay flats. The sun felt good; he could smell the juniper and piñon still damp from the rain. The wind carried a wild honey smell from meadows of beeweed. The trail dipped into a shallow wash. The sand was washed pale and smooth by rainwater and wind.

But in some places the beauty of the language is so good that I can’t help but admire the writer’s ability to create magic out of words.

They walked close together, arms around each other’s waist, pulling each other close. A mourning dove called from the tall grass along the wash, and below the cliffs the speckled cattle were grazing. Every step formed another word, thick like yellow pitch oozing from a broken piñon limb, words pressing inside his chest until it hurt: don’t leave me. But he sucked air through clenched teeth and breathed hard, trapping those words inside. She stopped by a juniper tree at the edge of the road and set her bundle on the ground.


Before dawn, southeast of the village, the bells would announce their approach, the sound shimmering across the sand hills, followed by the clacking of turtle-shell rattles—all these sounds gathering with the dawn. Coming closer to the river, faintly at first, faint as the pale yellow light emerging across the southeast horizon, the sounds gathered intensity from the swelling colors of dawn. And at the moment the sun came over the edge of the horizon, they suddenly appeared on the riverbank, the Ka’t’sina approaching the river crossing.

The author, in most places, refers to something in such subtle way that it’ll be treat for you if you can figure out what she’s trying to say.

“I have a sister who lives way down that way. She’s married to a Navajo from Red Lake.” She pointed south, in the direction she was looking. “Another lives near Flagstaff. My brother’s in Jemez.” She stopped suddenly and laughed. “You know what they say about the Montaños.” The tone of her voice said that of course he knew what the people said about her family, but Tayo couldn’t remember hearing of that family.

“Up here, we don’t have to worry about those things.” She was right. They would leave the questions of lineage, clan, and family name to the people in the village, to someone like Auntie who had to know everything about anyone.

But in several places the dialogues are so vague that you can’t understand anything.

Tayo had been drowsing in the sun with his back against the cliff rock; he sat up stiffly and looked at her.

“In case of what?” His heartbeat was fast and unsteady. Her eyes had distance in them; when he looked at her he saw miles spreading into canyons and hills. She knelt down beside him, and he saw tears.

“Out there,” she whispered, “things are always moving, always shifting. I hear them sometimes at night.”

All I can say now is that, after finishing this book, I’ve felt relieved, not jubilant. I’ve felt that finally I have completed a difficult book which has every quality to become a masterpiece. I agree that it definitely is a masterpiece but I also admit that maybe I’ll not touch this book again. I just can’t go though the trauma it has induced in me again.

Read all my book experiences here.




by Anirban Nanda


Rahul has the chance to prove his worth today. He’s been waiting for a long time for this opportunity. Ujjal has got out too early today and the opponent has scored 84 in six overs. This is it. It’s now or never. Two overs to go and 24 runs is required for victory. Rahul stands up beside the makeshift boundary formed by tentative connection points between pairs of shoes and broken bricks. Ujjal comes back trotting and swinging his bat with frustration. He shouldn’t have played that square cut too early, which has caused the cambis ball to get height and loft over the boundary. A six in short-cricket is as good as a wicket. He hands over the butter-scotch colored bat to Rahul; their most preferred bat in the whole team. Actually, they do not have many choices─ only Ujjal and Bublu have bats. Rahul marches through the 20 feet diameter ground with pride, looking around to get a glimpse of field distribution and also give his fellow teammates some hope. Rahul is always the last person during the team selection because he never has scored more than 10 runs and taking a wicket is too far-fetched for him. Once, a confident captain gave him an over despite everyone’s disapproval, and he was rewarded with 25 runs; the highest run taken in an over with six fours in all the six balls and one wide. Rahul stands straight in front of the wicket and taps the bat multiple times to smooth any probable uneven surface. It’s just for show. Everyone knows he cannot survive more than 3 balls.

He positions himself to face the first ball; legs apart and bat in between and forefinger of his right hand over the joint of handle. The Britannia sign has worn off like a crescent moon. He looks up at the bowler; the green ball is zooming towards him, twirling and spinning. He transfers his weight to his front foot and swings his bat in a circular curl. The ball bounces off the tow of the bat and sprints through the boundary. He stands there for a second, with his left leg floating in air. The ground remains silent for few seconds. And then everyone sitting cross-legged at the boundary jumps in shouts and cheers. The happiest moment for Rahul. He comes back to the crease, feeling more confident. The bowler, who has now disgraced his team by getting hit by someone like Rahul, throws the next ball with ample velocity. No sooner has the ball dropped a foot away from his leg than Rahul finds the ball in wicket-keeper’s hand. He takes a single in the next ball.

Thus, staying at non-striker end, he survives one over and three balls. That is kind of a record for him. Never has he stayed this long in crease. Ten runs to get in just three balls. He has to hit now, he has given too much hope to his team. Now he cannot back out. This time, the bowler flings the ball targeting the gap in between his leg and bat; the yorker. Rahul somehow manages to move his bat an inch causing the ball to kiss the edge of the bat and roll behind the stumps. Another boundary. Everyone whooped and danced with excitement. The next ball is a dot. Six is needed in one ball, which is impossible in short cricket. Everyone has sat down with hopeless faces. The last ball. Rahul has to hit, for the sake of honor. The ball is thrown so fast that it whizzes past his ear whispering something. The match is lost. Face down, he leaves the bat and walks out to join the team waiting with condemning eyes.

NO BALL! The umpire has declared. It’s an over-bounce. Rahul brightens. Five runs to win and four to draw. He still has a chance. At least he can give them an honorary tie, if not a victory. He runs to the crease, and lifts the bat in excitement. The bowler, worried to see the match slipping out of his hands, holds the ball tightly. It will be a yorker. He taps his bat and concentrates on the green ball. His entire world now is concentrated on that ball. He can’t hear anything, the shouting of the team mates or the swearing of the wicket keeper. The ball is released. It is becoming bigger and bigger with every second, swirling slowly. He blinks and then closes his eyes while swinging his bat with full vigor. The ball hits the sweet spot and runs towards long-off, jouncing and ricocheting on the uneven ground. He sighs in relief. He has become the center of attention as everyone comes down to congratulate him by patting his back. He doesn’t care then if the match has been won.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~THE END~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~