Just as Janus was depicted seeing into the past and future at once so too is Ceremony, a novel by Leslie Marmon Silko. A face, half shown in the light and the other in the dark, stares defiantly out from the front cover almost daring me to open it and delve into the depths. Later, I realize the face is both a stark reminder and unconscious revelation from where this story springs. Silko, born in Albequerque MN, is of Laguna ancestry herself and weaves the story of a young native american haunted by the horrors of being a soldier during WWII and of his own cousin killed in action during the conflict.
Interwoven between flashbacks of war and Tayo’s struggle against alcoholism, poverty and post traumatic stress; the author breathes life back into the young man’s existence with traditional stories and myth. The story is as much about the dichotomy that occurs between life on and off the reservation – as it is about war and its lasting effects. Each eating at the soul in their own way.
Tayo finds he must travel the path of his ancestors and the vision quest to retrieve parts of himself that had been torn away bit by bit. The story culminates in Tayo finding himself whole and well, with the help of through reclamation of himself on a physical, mental and spiritual levels.
Aptly named, Ceremony was released in 1977, embraced by many during the post-Vietnam war era. The novel was both critically acclaimed and criticized – yet another interesting polarization. For me, it was a very thoughtful book and one that I did not read lightly. Each turn of the page was filled with layer upon layer of meaning. Reading this book is like peeling an onion to reveal yet another Janus-like implication.
Read more about post traumatic stress.