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GARDENS IN THE DUNES: A Novel Paperback – April 13, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1900 the West was still wild. Anglo-Americans were tearing up the countryside in the name of progress, and pity the Indians who stood in the way. To this canvas Leslie Marmon Silko, author of such well-received novels as Almanac of the Dead and Ceremony, brings her brush. Gardens in the Dunes begins and ends at a hidden garden near the Colorado River on the California-Arizona border. But Silko covers ground that includes the early stages of women's rights, emerging female sexuality, the rape of the Amazon, early quack medicine, Gnostic mysteries, Celtic magic, and flower husbandry. Her palette has many colors, but everywhere the garden is a central theme.

Grandmother Fleet, one of the few remaining Sand Lizard Indians, tends a traditional desert garden while teaching the old ways to her granddaughters Sister Salt and Indigo. At a time of crushing hopelessness, Wovoka's Ghost Dance messianic movement appears, drawing in the girls and Grandmother Fleet:

While the others danced with eyes focussed on the fire, Indigo watched the weird shadows play on the hillsides, so she was one of the first to see the Messiah and his family as they stepped out of darkness into the glow of swirling snowflakes. How their white robes shined!
Indigo is also one of the first to sense the approach of soldiers and Indian police bent on breaking up the gathering. The action then moves her from the secret garden and small family to an Indian school in Riverside. She eventually flees the school and ends up traveling through Europe with an aristocratic Victorian family, as companion to an unmarried woman. Despite her many adventures and her exposure to a life of privilege and luxury, Indigo never loses her affinity for the traditions of her own people. Silko uses this novel to explore contrasts between Native American and European customs and morals--with white culture often coming up short. On occasion this ambitious novel strays into the political proper, but there's no denying the sheer force of Silko's prose and the sweep of her story. Gardens in the Dunes offers both a vivid portrait of 19th-century Native American life and a provocative exploration of disparate cultures' relationships to the world around them --Schuyler Ingle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Silko (Almanac of the Dead, etc.) is widely considered a master of Native American literature, but in this third novel, as always, the poet, short-story writer and essayist soars beyond the simpler categorizations that might circumscribe her virtuosic and visionary work. Indigo is one of the last Sand Lizard people, who for centuries have cultivated the desert dunes beyond the river. Young Indigo's story opens like a folk tale, outside place and time, but gradually circumstances become plain. It's the turn of the century, Arizona is on the verge of statehood and an aqueduct is being constructed to feed water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. Displaced peoples strip the desert gardens, and Grandma Fleet takes Indigo and Sister Salt to Needles. There the girls' mother has joined the encampment of women dancing to summon the Messiah, who, to Indigo's wonderment, appears with his Holy Mother and his 11 children. Soldiers raid the celebration; soon Indigo and Sister Salt are captured and separated, and Indigo is sent to school in Riverside. She escapes and is found hiding in a garden by intellectual iconoclast Hattie, who adopts the child and takes her first to New York, then to Europe. The novel, expanding far beyond its initial setting and historical themes, is structured around intricate patterns of color and styles of gardening: the desert dunes are pale yellow and orange; in Italy, a black garden is formed from thousands of hybrid black gladioli. Significantly, there's also a parrot named RainbowAalong with a monkey named Linnaeus and a dog circus. Silko's integration of glorious details into her many vivid settings and intense characters is a triumph of the storyteller's art, which this gifted and magical novelist has never demonstrated more satisfyingly than she does here.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition (April 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684863324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684863320
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on October 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I loved this novel because of its vivid descriptions of plant life and gardens. I live in an urban environment and flowers, trees, colors and scents are not part of my daily life. I just couldn't get enough, and Silko creates dazzling gardens everywhere throughout her book.
The first section is about a young Native American girl named Indigo, her Sister Salt and their Grandmother Fleet. They are making a life for themselves in a small town in the American Southwest around the turn of 19th century. Their greatest wish is to return to the home of their people, the Sand Lizards, and tend their desert garden in the dunes. But they are in constant fear of being caught by the white government and forced to live in schools or on reservations.
Although the beginning of the book is wonderfully descriptive, I became very engaged with the characters about 50 pages in. Indigo escapes from the Indian school and wanders into the gardens of Hattie and Edward, a wealthy married couple. Edward's monkey, Linnaeus, charms Indigo out of hiding and as the 2 get acquainted, we learn of Hattie's life.
Hattie was a scholar devoted to studying the role of women in early Christianity. However, the all male Harvard review board rejected her thesis topic and when she returns home, she meets and marries Edward, an older man with a professional interest in botany. Edward travels the world in search of plant specimens and his trip to South America to gather rare orchids is described in detail. In Brazil he was sabotaged, causing him personal injury as well as legal and financial difficulties. His leg was hurt so badly that intimacy is painful and unlikely for him, but Hattie wished to marry him regardless of their passionless future.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Review: Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko
When Leslie Marmon Silko advised Gary Snyder not to look to native American traditions for his poetry, her anger was justified. Garden in the Dunes, Silko's latest work in hardback, may represent the author's mature outlook, synthesizing native and European traditions in one fascinating work which, nevertheless, carries her earlier message. Documenting the horrors of Western European culture as they manifest in the culture of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, Silko manages to send Hattie, her Caucasian heroine, back to Europe, much as Hawthorne sends Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. Indigo, the child heroine of the novel, encounters everything from a cruel episode recalling D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover in the northeastern United States to manifestations of early goddess figures in an Italian black garden. The latter are most recognizable to the child as emblems of her own Sand Lizzard culture, one related to but independent of other Southwest Indian cultures. Silko's condemnation of greedy white males is balanced by Hattie's abortive attempt to bring forth a thesis on the heresies of Southern France, particularly that related to Mary Magdalene. Eventually, Hattie pays the price for her naivete, though she has educated Indigo in the process, loving her and receiving affection from the child in return. More clearly organized and faster paced than Almanac of the Dead, Gardens in the Dunes provides readers with an intriguing, web-like tale of a host of characters, Messianic traditions involving the Ghost Dance, and Biblical symbolism of the Garden of Eden.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mamalinde on March 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While on a camping trip, I settled into this amazing book. Still can't quite identify it -- is it a Botany book? a social treatise? travel book? feminist tract? religious thesis? history book? Visually stunning: the well dressed little Indian with the parrot on her shoulder and the monkey holding her hand; ancient stones and mists of Bath; lusty sun soaked gardens of Italy; the clay painted Indian dancers; a hammock on a boat in the Amazon; the high spirited Hattie; the self-absorbed Edward; all the magnificent gardens -- how on earth does Silko make the transitions in such a believable manner? Yes, of course, the author has an agenda, and magically shows us a version of what she considers important. Mamalinda believes this book is best enjoyed beside a body of water, settling into the trees or by the light of the campfire, and crawling into and living within this masterpiece... and Mamalinda will be looking for the author's other books!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This new novel by Leslie Marmon Silko is a masterpiece. Silko has written another wonderful book about Native Americans, but at the same time we can read the history of Western civilization following the story of these gardens and plants. The prose is always original, intense, lyrical.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By solange on April 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Gardens in the Dunes" covers a lot of territory, most of it new--for example, one subplot concerns botanical theft (uprooting specimens of a particular orchid species from its habitat in the Amazonian rainforest, then burning the rest of the habitat to increase the value of the specimens). Silko has obviously done exhaustive research on many different plants and garden types, European and Native mythology, the Ghost Dance, and numerous other topics outside the range of most historical fiction. These details definitely make the novel worth reading.
However, unlike some of Silko's earlier work (ie. "Ceremony"), "Gardens" is written with little attention to prose style. Instead of showing the characters' emotions through their actions or dialogue, Silko is often content to describe them ("Hattie felt sad...") which has little impact for the reader.
Considering the themes it deals with (suppression of Native cultures, women's rights, ecological destruction), the book is fairly apolitical. No one ethnic group is given a monopoly on meaningful spirituality or wisdom. White people are not the villains; the general human failings of greed, dishonesty, ignorance and condescension are what cause trouble, and the people that display these faults are in every culture. The destruction of nature and the oppression of fellow humans are the ills; a respect for the ancient wisdom (of any culture) and the beauty and providence of the natural world are the remedies.
"Gardens" may seem dry to some, but it's well worth the effort to discover Silko's unique and detailed cultural vision.
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