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GARDENS IN THE DUNES: A Novel

by Leslie Marmon Silko

ISBN 0684863324 / 9780684863320 / 0-684-86332-4
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

In 1900 the West was still wild. Anglo-Americans were tearing up the countryside in the name of progress, and pity the Indians who stood in the way. To this canvas Leslie Marmon Silko, author of such well-received novels as Almanac of the Dead and Ceremony, brings her brush. Gardens in the Dunes begins and ends at a hidden garden near the Colorado River on the California-Arizona border. But Silko covers ground that includes the early stages of women's rights, emerging female sexuality, the rape of the Amazon, early quack medicine, Gnostic mysteries, Celtic magic, and flower husbandry. Her palette has many colors, but everywhere the garden is a central theme.

Grandmother Fleet, one of the few remaining Sand Lizard Indians, tends a traditional desert garden while teaching the old ways to her granddaughters Sister Salt and Indigo. At a time of crushing hopelessness, Wovoka's Ghost Dance messianic movement appears, drawing in the girls and Grandmother Fleet:

While the others danced with eyes focussed on the fire, Indigo watched the weird shadows play on the hillsides, so she was one of the first to see the Messiah and his family as they stepped out of darkness into the glow of swirling snowflakes. How their white robes shined!
Indigo is also one of the first to sense the approach of soldiers and Indian police bent on breaking up the gathering. The action then moves her from the secret garden and small family to an Indian school in Riverside. She eventually flees the school and ends up traveling through Europe with an aristocratic Victorian family, as companion to an unmarried woman. Despite her many adventures and her exposure to a life of privilege and luxury, Indigo never loses her affinity for the traditions of her own people. Silko uses this novel to explore contrasts between Native American and European customs and morals--with white culture often coming up short. On occasion this ambitious novel strays into the political proper, but there's no denying the sheer force of Silko's prose and the sweep of her story. Gardens in the Dunes offers both a vivid portrait of 19th-century Native American life and a provocative exploration of disparate cultures' relationships to the world around them --Schuyler Ingle [via]