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The Turquoise Ledge, A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko


To begin my review, I’m actually going to start with a seemingly off-topic recap of a scene from one of my favorite HBO shows, Girls. I tried to find a YouTube clip so that I wouldn’t have to recap, but had no such luck. This season, Hannah is a creative writing graduate student in Iowa. In the workshop of her first story, she is slammed by her peers for several reasons. One student starts going off about how her story disrespects the perspective of the main male character. Hannah has already had a very hard time not speaking up and defending her story, but just about bursts at the seams whenever this fellow talks about the male perspective. Hannah asks just to say one word, but the professor still won’t let her speak up. She says it anyway. “History,” she said, “History didn’t really focus on the female perspective.”

turquoise2In my graduate class, Native American Women’s Autobiography, I am essentially learning all the ways in which history has silenced or tried to silence the Native American/indigenous perspective. And in particular, the perspective of indigenous women. The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko is the first actual piece of memoir/autobiography that we’ve read (everything else so far has been theory and analysis). Already, Silko’s prose, her circular narrative style, and the way in which she discusses the immense damage “the man and his machine” have caused the environment and her people at the same time as describing the beauty of nature around her. Just a warning: there are a lot of rattlesnakes in her memoir. Rattlesnakes are sacred to her people (she is Laguna Pueblo) and to other peoples she mentions in her memoir. Silko focuses her memoir on her interactions with nature around her, with rattlesnakes, her birds and dogs, even the rocks and the stones with turquoise that she finds on her morning walks. In an interview, Silko states that she wrote her memoir in order to pass knowledge of an older way of life onto a younger generation. Her memoir acts not only as a memoir, as spiritual reflection, and as a history of Arizona and New Mexico, but also as a guide for how to watch out for and respect rattlesnakes, how animals survive a desert drought, among other things. If you haven’t been exposed to very much Native American or indigenous contemporary literature, I would really suggest reading The Turquoise Ledge. I feel like I’ve learned a whole new historical perspective from my class and from Silko’s writing. Someday, when I’m not reading for class, I plan to read her novel Ceremony.

Below is a picture of a rare, blue rattlesnake, which Silko mentions seeing:


This is a picture of the mountains near Tuscon, the main setting of Silko’s memoir:


(Both found on a Google image search)

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