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