Search This Blog

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Turquoise Ledge--A Leslie Marmon Silko Diary

One of my Goodreads friends shelved The Turquoise Ledge.  I had been unaware of its existence.  I was interested in reading a book that was supposed to be Leslie Marmon Silko's memoir.  I had very much liked her most recent novel, Gardens in the Dunes.  I expected a book that was as well written as that novel had been.


Normally, a book intended to be a memoir has an organizing principle.  It's usually chronological, but it could be organized by topic.  The Turquoise Ledge recounts daily activities and associated reflections.  So I think it would be more accurate to call it a diary.  I recognized the diary structure since I kept diaries very much like this one as an adolescent.

There's a great deal of space devoted to daily walks.  I confess that these were mostly of little interest to me.  She also focused a great deal on snakes.  Silko obviously loves snakes.  I'm afraid that I mostly prefer mammals myself.  I don't relate very well to reptiles.  Readers who are also fond of snakes are likely to have a different reaction to this aspect of the book.

I was more interested in rocks,plants and folklore.  I was also astonished to discover that Silko had been drawing and painting figures from indigenous traditions, and that she once wanted to become an artist.  I looked for examples of her artwork on the internet. I found this mural and this literary journal cover illustration.  Silko tells us that the spirits who inspired the paintings described in The Turquoise Ledge refused to allow her to offer them for sale.   This means that there may not be an exhibit of Silko's artwork during her lifetime.

I was most interested in Silko's exploration of Nahua culture. The Nahua are also known as the Aztecs whose rule of Mexico was overthrown by the Spanish conquistadors.  Silko tells us that the Aztecs are related to the Hopi, and that the language of the Hopi is similar to Nahuatl, the Aztec language.   I have since learned that Nahuatl and Hopi both belong to a family of languages spoken by peoples throughout the American Southwest. We know that the Aztecs didn't originate in what is now Mexico, and that they themselves were conquerors who were strongly resented by those they subjected to their rule.   Their place of origin is known as Aztlan, but scholars can only theorize about Aztlan's location. The linguistic evidence tends to confirm the theory that Aztlan was in the American Southwest.  For further discussion of the problems involved in locating Aztlan see this article.

Silko makes no mention of the most terrible aspect of pre-Conquest Aztec governance.   It was routine human sacrifice.   Other Meso-American civilizations limited human sacrifice to dire emergencies.   Yet the Aztecs were characterized by intense anxiety.  This article dealing Aztec Human Sacrifice on Wikipedia is very thorough and contains a chart with all the festivals where human sacrifices were routinely done. They regularly engaged in human sacrifice for rainfall even if there was no drought.     Silko discusses the  Nahuatl concept of "cloud companions" or "ghost warriors" which involve the idea that the clouds are inhabited by the dead who help bring the rain.  It doesn't seem to occur to her that this is a reference to human sacrifice.   The Aztecs were providing these "cloud companions" through their horrific rites.

It seemed to me that The Tourquoise Ledge is somewhat superficial.  It is filled with observations that are occasionally interesting, but Silko doesn't consider topics in depth.  I think that the diary format is a scattered approach.  I should read her essays if I want to see more focused writing.



No comments:

Post a Comment