the Indian who wants to “bring the animals home” – Liberation

Book of Libécase

A cult novel whose hero is a veteran of the Second World War, “the great white war”.

A library is sometimes filled by chance, sometimes following a recommendation. Not long ago, Joy Harjo, “Poet Laureate of the United States” of Creek and Cherokee descent, recalled at our request the first time a poem touched her. As a child, for him were the words of Emily Dickinson and, later, the words of Leslie Marmon Silko, novelist. who also writes poetry. Known as one of the pillars of the Native American Renaissance (along with James Welch and Louise Erdrich, among others), Silko was translated into France in 1992. This is his first novel, ceremony, and it will reappear at the end of the year in a revised translation (still by Michel Valmary). So it unfolds with Joy Harjo’s advice: “I loved the way his poetry spoke to me.”

Published across the Atlantic in 1977, Ceremony is accompanied here by a foreword to which Leslie Marmon Silko, now in her seventies, returns. We are in the spring of 1973, he is 25 years old and finds himself in Alaska with his wife and children. Then he writes short stories. “News, that’s what I’m going to write.” But between diapers and dishes, he has no time and space. A family friend offers him a place to work. He puts his sentences at length. A manuscript was completed. Without daring to call it a “novel”, he sent it to the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. The latter is enthusiastic. “He especially liked the fact that I didn’t cut the novel into chapters. ”The chapter! I kept thinking, I know I’ve forgotten something! Finally, Silko does not change anything and maintains an unbroken flow, which is consistent throughout: the literary genres, the interiors of some characters and various Indian traditions are mixed there.

Back to him town from New Mexico

Arriving in Alaska, Leslie Marmon Silko missed the sun and Ceremony is in a way his therapy. The novel opens and ends with the same verse: “Sunrise.” One of the recurring images, reflecting the weaving of the narrative, is the spider’s web: Tayo, the protagonist, dreads the moment. “where the sun on the wall sank into his thoughts like a pale gray cobweb, to cling to all that was within him.” After World War II, “The Great White War” this Indian boy returned to his family to his family town from New Mexico. Enlisted with his cousin Rocky, he was the only one of the two to return. The memory of the child he grew up with came back to him and he was sick, like light. Beer is drunk in large sips “like medicine.” As for dreams, they are “does not wait for the night; they appear all the time.”

The pain Tayo suffered (an unnamed post-traumatic syndrome) was caused by a war he did not choose and “part of something bigger” : “Every morning of their lives, the Indians wake up to find the land stolen from them, still there, within easy reach, and this theft displayed for all to see.” It is through a shamanic ceremony given by a medicine man navajo that Tayo sees as opening a possible way out of his inner labyrinth, also a way of reconnecting with one of the aspects of his culture. Against the city, vehicles and weapons of mass destruction (White Sands where, in 1945, the American government detonated the first atomic bomb, are located “four hundred and fifty kilometers to the southeast”), We return to nature; he finds help and a mission there. Because the cows disappeared, they went to the plains “bring the animals home”.

When the book came out, some were surprised that an author would cast a man as the central figure. However, for Silko, “The story of World War II veterans can only be told through the male perspective.” It doesn’t stop it Ceremony to offer a good supporting female role in the person of one Helen Jean. It doesn’t take much to do it: an intoxicating perfume, a pink western blouse. “He knows that disability pensions will drop at the beginning of the month” and he knows where to meet veterans. “At the end of the afternoon, when he got up to leave, he asked someone for a little financial help.” Helen Jean smiled at a Mexican, then disappeared in the blink of an eye. Silko wrote short stories and his novel reminds of that.

Leslie Marmon Silko, ceremony, translated from English (United States) by Michel Valmary, foreword by Leslie Marmon Silko, foreword by Larry McMurtry. Albin Michel “Terres d’Amérique”, 400 pp., €22.90 (ebook: €14.99).

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