Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Review: Almanac of the Dead

Almanac of the Dead Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was one of my goals to read more indigenous authors in 2020, but I've decided to withhold judgment on Leslie Marmon Silko until I've read her other works. I know better than to punish a writer or a novel for not being what I wanted but this doesn't match the cover blurb or what I was hoping for. Instead of a family or community saga saturated in characters from various indigenous backgrounds, it is a novel about government corruption, police corruption, drug trafficking, people trafficking, unethical business practices, and people who place no value on lives other than their own. Most of the characters are white men and the author puts the reader inside their narratives, leaving me reading from uncomfortable perspectives page after page after page. By the time I got back to the characters I initially felt invested in, I didn't care as much about them after they'd been absent for 500 pages.

Most of the novel takes place in Tuscon but some characters and chapters are in Mexico, elsewhere in Arizona, maybe California. Current events are eco-terrorism, the early hints of the Internet (the novel was originally published in 1991), the AIDS crisis, and the ongoing commercial failures of the industries who had moved into Tuscon and Phoenix.

There is an underlying sense that those who are indigenous have developed various ways of coping with the dominant population (some comply, some become corrupt, some plan revolution, some stick to themselves) and the novel actually ends in a somewhat hopeful way, but it's a heck of a journey to get there. This book is dark and reminded me of the experience reading 2666.

The underlying premise according to the publisher blurb is this fragmented text handed down from ancestors to these elderly sisters but it really played such a minor role - I would have loved to see it more significantly a part of the text. With how much attention is given it in the beginning I was left without feeling it had done much. Same with many of the early characters, honestly. I think the author may have tried to do too much and just ended up not doing much. Publishers Weekly didn't disagree with me.

CW rape, murder, suicide, drugs, harm to children, harm to animals, kidnapping, etc.

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