Gardens in the Dunes


In Gardens In The Dunes, Leslie Marmon Silko writes about Indigo, a child of the Sand Lizard people, a tribe on the brink of extinction in turn-of-the-century California. Deftly using the voice of this precocious young girl, Silko — herself of Pueblo Indian descent – tells the tale of the terrible fate of the Native American people at this juncture in U.S. history.

After the death of Indigo’s grandmother, Indigo and her sister leave their safe garden in the dunes in search of their mother. Once in town they are picked up by Indian police and separated. Indigo soon escapes. Hungry and in need of help, she is taken in by a Victorian couple en route to Europe. Before Indigo can find her way back to her family, she becomes the couple’s ward on a tour of the elaborate gardens of New York, England, and Italy. Through the eyes of Indigo, Indigo’s sister, and Indigo’s white guardians, we come to learn that the clash of the white and the Indian cultures is a clash of peoples with completely different views of how to relate to nature and the universe.

Make no mistake – this is a literary historical novel. As such, it wrestles with enormous themes. Silko’s faithful rendering of the voice of a young girl does manage to muffle the contentious nature of the feminist, ethnic and environmental issues, but even this sympathetic reader thought the Political Correctness Meter edged more than once into the red zone. This doesn’t detract from Silko’s lyrical writing, the depth of her female characters, or the sweeping range of her thematic explorations. Living for a short while in the head of charming little Indigo – a phenomenal creation — is well worth the effort.

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