'The Indian Wars have never ended in the Americas': The politics of memory and history in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead

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Published to coincide with the quincentennial celebrations of Columbus's ‘discovery’ of the New World, the Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko's apocalyptic 1991 novel, Almanac of the Dead, is a harsh indictment of five hundred years of colonialism, racism and genocide in the New World. Silko clearly links this inhuman(e) history to the contemporary social policies of a range of nation states within the Americas, to present a variety of political issues that are of crucial significance to contemporary tribal communities and other multi-national disenfranchised groups. Among others, this includes the significance of gender to constructions of American settlement and Federal-Indian relations, and to Silko's own status, and choice of literary topics, as a female (and Native) writer. This essay analyses Silko's disruption of authorized and sanitized state narratives, and of accepted (and acceptable) narratives of settlement; and considers Silko's use of the almanac form – the codex – of the pre-contact Aztec and Mayan libraries as a means to assert indigenous literacy, and to challenge the Euro-American claims to ‘civilization’ that are the basis for New World settlement. Most significantly, as its title suggests, Almanac of the Dead emphasizes the presence of the dead, both indigenous peoples and African slaves, to expose the real costs of settlement, and to actively un-settle the Euro- American reader. Consequently, Almanac of the Dead presents the powerful alternative histories of a range of dispossessed social and ethnic groups throughout the Americas, while relocating and reconsidering the US within the context of the Americas as a continental and historical whole, and emphasizing the positive potential of political activism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
JournalFeminist Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007

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