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Leslie Marmon Silko: Almanac of the Dead

Silko’s second novel is not an easy read. It is a huge book – 763 pages in my copy – and has a huge cast of characters. It has several plot lines, some of which just seem to peter out. But it is, like her previous novel, a first-class and important work. The Almanac of the Dead is a set of ancient notebooks that Yoeme, a Yaqui Indian, had given to her granddaughter, Zeta Cazador. Yoeme has told her that the notebooks of the snakes was the key to the whole thing but Zeta could not see this. Her twin sister, Lecha, is a TV psychic who is interested in deciphering them. The two twins, who are sixty years old, live in a heavily fortified compound, where Zeta makes a living running guns and dealing drugs, together with Ferro, Lecha’s gay son, and Paulie. Seese, who has come to Lecha to get Lecha’s help in locating her kidnapped son, helps her. At the same time, there are other plotlines going on, including a revolutionary army that plans to reclaim trial lands (as foretold in the Almanac) and a general portrait of the decay of white America, which will soon be reclaimed by the tribal peoples, not to mention a whole host of bad guys – drug dealers of all kinds, corrupt police, corrupt politicians and arms dealers. It is also entirely chaotic and some critics have complained that various characters seem to come and suddenly disappear, only to reappear much later, while the various plot lines go all over the place. Of course, they do. The world is chaotic, Silko is eager to point out, and her novel is chaotic as well. It is not an easy read but, if you persevere, it is a great read.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Simon & Schuster