Ceremony by Leslie Silko, Larry McMurtry

By Leslie Silko, Larry McMurtry

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The Almanac absorbed Leslie Marmon Silko for more than ten years; it was followed by a lovely book of essays (Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, after which she returned to a theme which is woven through all her work: the theft, by the invading Europeans, of the native people’s long-accumulated and reverently guarded wisdom about the natural world. This novel was Gardens in the Dunes, and the intellectual property that is being looted is chiefly botanical lore. Ceremony is a novel whose unsettling story has lost none of its force in the nearly three decades since it was published.

Located on Revillagigedo Island, 750 miles north of Seattle, Ketchikan had a mild climate by Alaskan standards due in large part to a warm ocean current named the Japanese Current. The average year-round temperature was forty-eight degrees, and the average rainfall was 180 inches. In Chinle the annual rainfall was twelve inches in a good year. I was accustomed to the bright sunlight of the Southwest, where the weather permitted activity outdoors all year around. In southeastern Alaska the tall spruce trees, the heavy clouds, fogs and mist and the steep mountains enclosed the town.

The Hirabayashis, like other Japanese Americans, were imprisoned in internment camps during the war, and it was Gordon Hirabayashi, Mrs. S. Congress. Mrs. Hirabayashi welcomed all her customers with a joyous greeting, and her elderly mother working behind the stove smiled shyly and nodded. I always ordered the same thing: green tea and a bowl of pork noodles. Except for me and a few old Tlingit and Haida people, the Hirabayshis’ customers were fishermen in rubber boots and gray wool halibut jackets.

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