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Tayari JonesGardens in the Dunes is a fascinating novel of ideas, myth, and allegory.
— The Progressive
The Boston Globe Confident and beautifully written.
Melissa Levine San Francisco Chronicle Like Gabriel García Márquez, but more accurately reminiscent of Joseph Conrad...a rich descendant well worth reading.
Irene Warner The Seattle Times Book Review Rich, generous, funny, and ambitious, thought provoking and rewarding.
Nadya Labi Time Silko has crafted a dreamlike tale out of one of the ugliest realities in American history.
Therese Stanton Ms. The historical, geographical, and emotional scope of this sprawling novel is breathtaking. Silko tells and retells the stories of multicultural America and weaves them into the "master" narrative of American history.
Philip Connors Newsday A tender, evocative tale.
Alexs Pate Minneapolis Star-Tribune You can depend on Leslie Marmon Silko to seduce and captivate you with her considerable literary powers. Her dreamlike narratives deliver amazing truths. With Gardens in the Dunes, Silko has crafted a book about faith in the old ways, in the natural ways of life, about the significance of a family and a girl's indomitable spirit.
Denise Low The Kansas City Star Silko writes descriptions as lush as rose petals. A cosmopolitan, spellbinding narrative.
David A. Walton San Jose Mercury News Silko's appeal is her ability to transcend with her story the obvious ethnic, feminist, and ecological messages so deeply embedded in her material....[Her] fiction is rooted in the real world and conveys the eternal messages of story land: love won and lost, separation and reunion, a child's growth and arrival into adulthood.
From: Part Two Hattie did not try to coax or drag the child out of the bushes; instead she smiled and nodded as if she was accustomed to visitors in the lilacs. Edward had alerted her to the runaways from the Indian school a few miles down the road. No danger. No cause for concern. Only the first-time students tried to run away; after the first year they were not so wild, he said, and she laughed gaily and replied, "Thank goodness we haven't got a penitentiary next door!"
At first she could not determine if this was a boy or a girl, though Edward said the boys were shorn of their long hair; this child's hair seemed long, though it was too tangled with weeds to be certain. Poor little Indian.
She did not want to frighten the child any more than she had already. She carried the monkey to his cage in the old orchid house, damaged some years ago by an earthquake, then abandoned to a white wisteria. Over the years, the wisteria followed the contours of the glass panels of the vaulted roof, snaking along tiny ledges formed by the leaded glass. Long cascades of pendulous white blossoms caught the bright morning light through the glass; the white blossoms gave off a luminous glow as if they were little lanterns. The monkey did not want to go into the cage and clung to her tightly; she tickled him gently and played with him until he loosened his grip, then quickly set him down inside the cage on his bench. She hurried to the house to decide what to do about the Indian child.
The cook was in the laundry helping the new maid iron the linens, but she did not disturb them. Edward's household staff was accustomed to the needs of a bachelor who spent morethan ten months of the year away on expeditions. Hattie was in no hurry to make changes; she wanted the cook and maids to feel comfortable with her.
She opened the cupboards and drawers in the pantry in search of something special to lure the child from under the lilac bushes. A peach? Some bread with strawberry jam? Edward said the Indian students were quick to learn civilized ways. In the summer, when he was not away on an expedition, Edward hired two or three Indian boys to help with the weeding and mowing.
She carried the bread and jam and a cup of water on a tray and left them at the edge of the lawn next to the lilac bushes. She wanted the child to see she meant no harm, so she proceeded to measure the grassy arcade created by the lilacs. She had big plans for this area. While she paced off the length of the lawn, she kept watch from the corner of her eye for any sign of the child. She wondered what the school fed the Indian children. Did they feed the children the tribal foods they were accustomed to?
She paced off the width of the grassy area and noted the measurements on one of the note cards she carried in her pocket, a habit left over from her days of scholarly research into early church history. Of course, to Edward, the garden was a research laboratory, though she felt he appreciated its beauty. During his mother's last illness the orchid house and gardens were neglected, but the acres of lemon and orange trees were tended by Edward to occupy himself. He did not talk about those difficult years, so Hattie did not press him, but she saw evidence of some sort of breakdown in the neglect of the orchid house.
The rectangle of lawn outlined with lilacs was wasted space she could put to good use. She stood motionless for a good while as she surveyed the area and imagined its transformation. She became so engrossed as she sketched her renovation plans for the arcade, the child under the lilac bushes slipped her mind. She wanted to surprise Edward when he returned from the Bahamas-Key West expedition. She wanted to reassure Edward that she was not at all bothered that the expedition had come so soon after their wedding.
Of course, the expedition had been planned well in advance of their engagement; Edward always kept a busy schedule. Actually, she looked forward to this time by herself to get accustomed to her new home and new life. The day after his departure, she rose at dawn and gathered pink rose petals from the old climbing rosebush that covered the wall of the kitchen garden. While the petals dried she sewed sachets from white satin remnants of her wedding gown; now the musty drawers and closets of the old house were scented with roses. Her mother said no man wanted a professor for a wife, but Edward was no ordinary man; he showed no concern at all over the controversy her thesis topic caused.
The first week Edward was away, she walked from room to room; from the polished oak floors to the oak paneling and high ceilings, she could find nothing out of place. Edward's mother died ten years before they met, but her presence still was there. The rooms had an aura of completion about them that reminded her of her parents' house, with its aura of self-satisfaction rising off its mahogany furniture and emanating from dark oil portraits in gilded frames.
Hattie's mother did not permit the maids to reposition the furniture, and Hattie did not bother to challenge her mother over the furniture or rugs, because housekeeping chores bored her. Hattie laughed at her mother's prediction that she was destined for spinsterhood -- she knew she was too pretty to be an old maid. She had a sizeable dowry too. Actually she hoped her mother was right: if she were a spinster she would never have to run a household or take an interest in the shirt starch the laundress used.
From the time she was able to ride her pony alone, she vowed to herself she would not have a husband to interfere with rides along the beach as her parents had when she was thirteen. She discovered books when she was four years old, and Lucille, the cook, held her on her lap, where Hattie loved to listen to Lucille read from the old Bible she kept in the kitchen. Hattie pointed at words and Lucille pronounced them, and before long, Hattie recognized the words when she saw them again. Her father was delighted when Lucille proudly informed him Hattie could read; he went into the city that afternoon to buy children's books of simple rhymes and the alphabet. Hattie rapidly lost interest in the dolls dressed in elegant gowns and the tiny china teacups and plates she was given on her last birthday. With a book in her lap Hattie became a different person, thousands of miles away, in the middle of the action. Her mother worried that books at such an early age would ruin the girl, but Mr. Abbott didn't agree. He admired the theories of John Stuart Mill on the education of women and he was proud of his precocious child.
As Hattie finished noting the measurements, she glanced down and saw the bread and jam were gone from the tray; the cup was empty on the lawn. At that instant she heard the cook call her. Hattie returned her call, and the big woman came down the steps to the lower garden with a telegram in her hand. As the cook approached, Hattie said, "I've found a little Indian hiding in the lilacs."
"I'll send word to the school right away, Mrs. Palmer."
"Oh no -- that's not what I meant." Hattie was surprised at the sudden change in the expression on the cook's pink face. With her lips pressed together in disapproval, the cook bent down and squinted to get a better look under the lilacs. But when Hattie pulled back the branches to show her, the child was gone.
"You have to notify the school. It's the law," the cook said.
No one was permitted to employ or otherwise "keep" reservation Indians without government authorization. Edward had explained that out west it was necessary for the government to protect the Indians on reservations; otherwise the settlers would have killed them all.
The cook stared at the lilacs as if she expected a tiger to leap out. In that instant Hattie realized the cook disliked her, and she was embarrassed that her feelings were hurt.
"I'm sure the child returned to school herself," Hattie said stiffly. What did it matter if Edward's cook did not approve of her? The controversy over her thesis topic had shaken her self-confidence; before the thesis committee's decision, she seldom cared what others might think of her, certainly not a servant.
The cook seemed to be waiting for her to open the telegram.
"No need for you to wait," Hattie said. "I'll come inside if there is a reply to be sent." She was annoyed at the cook's attitude. Her mother said leave the cooks in the kitchen, otherwise there would be trouble; if a cook left the kitchen, look out; cooks wanted to run the whole house. Her mother said bachelors like Edward, who were never at home, spoiled good servants because he allowed them the run of the place while he was away. Hattie must be firm with the cook from the start.
She waited until the cook was gone before she opened the telegram. The message was odd; it must have been sent by someone else, a colleague, perhaps, who signed the message "Dr. E. G. Palmer," not "Edward" as he would have. The telegram told her nothing but the arrival time of the train. Had there been an accident? Was Edward ill?
She felt her heart pound as she hurried past the water garden and fountain and up the steps to the house. The expedition was to have lasted three months, time enough, Edward hoped, to allow him to complete the collection of sponges and marine algae of the Caribbean Sea.
She sat down at her writing desk, then realized she might have to break into his desk to locate the name and address of Edward's liaison officer at the Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington. She had not thought to ask for the address, but Edward did not leave instructions for her either. He had been a bachelor too long, her mother said, but he was the only gentleman willing to take a heretic to be his wife.
She paused at the door of Edward's study. They had not discussed what she should do in the event of an emergency. Edward had invited her into his study once, when they first arrived and he showed her their home. The entire third floor of the house was three big rooms, one passing into the other; the walls of every room were lined with oak bookshelves booked solid from floor to ceiling; in the center of the rooms were oak cabinets with dozens of small drawers.
Edward made his study in the first room; the desk in the center, flanked by two vast library tables covered with papers, books, and bits of dry leaves and plant stalks, was Edward's desk, as massive as a throne. She felt uncomfortable as she looked through the papers and letters on top of the desk. No mention of the expedition underwriters, no names or addresses, only Latin names of plants, diagrams of leaf structures, and queries from other plant collectors concerning plants they wished to sell or to buy.
The drawers of the desk were locked. She sat down in the big oak chair and took a deep breath. Her heart was pounding and she could feel the perspiration cling to her clothes and her body. She took deep breaths, as her doctor had instructed, and calmed herself. Easy does it.
She was not about to break open the locks on his desk drawers lest she appear to be overwrought. Her annoyance surprised her. Edward prepared for weeks and methodically reviewed all that he might need for three months in the Caribbean. The floor of his study had been spread with lanterns, candles, tents, tarps, a folding shovel, a trowel, a clock, bottles of chemicals -- formaldehyde and alcohol -- and a number of handsome cherry wood boxes that contained magnifying glasses, a microscope, a small telescope; and of course, one cherry wood box contained Edward's camera, another the glass plates and bottles of chemicals. Specimen collection envelopes, botanical field guides, a book of maps, blank notebooks, leather boots, rubber boots, rubber hip waders, a wide-brim straw hat, a pith helmet, mosquito netting, a canteen, and a revolver all were carefully packed into huge black steamer trunks. With so much equipment to organize, no wonder he forgot to leave her a name or address to contact in the event of a mishap for himself. The telegram said nothing about illness or injury. She really had made much over nothing. Her nerves were still fragile, though she was much better since she married Edward.
She got up from Edward's desk because walking calmed her. She wandered up and down the aisles of worktables in the laboratory-study. He collected other curiosities as well as plants. On the floor in one corner, a fossilized clamshell as big as an oven cradled a giant yellow tooth. Odd baskets as tall as chairs were filled with artifacts -- bows and spears and arrows bristled out of pottery jars painted with serpents and birds. A strange carved mask with a frightful expression gazed at her from another corner stacked high with colorful handwoven textiles. Mineral specimens filled the shelves -- fist-size amethysts, flawless crystals, and rows of eye agates watched over glittering pyrites.
As she turned, her ankle brushed a big dark lustrous rock on the floor. A meteorite. Edward had showed it to her because he was quite proud of it. Too heavy for the shelf with the other meteorites, it was allowed a place on the floor. He was quite keen on "celestial debris," as he called it. Meteorite specimens were nearly indestructible -- unlike rare orchids.
In the seventh month of their courtship, Edward told Hattie about the disastrous expedition to collect rare orchids on the Pará River in Brazil. He lowered his voice slightly as he recounted the events. His companions on the expedition were unreliable, and Edward was injured, unable to protect the specimens during the ocean storm. Boxes of rare orchid specimens were lost at sea during a storm, and others were ruined later when they were stored in a damp shed in Miami. Dozens of rare orchids, intended to repay the underwriters of the expedition, mildewed and rotted. Later there were allegations certain plant materials were exported without proper government permits. His companions behaved irresponsibly, and the failure of the expedition nearly ruined him.
Hattie had not expected such frankness from Mr. Palmer, though he was much older than the suitors she was accustomed to. Suddenly she felt too warm, on the verge of a queasy stomach. Was this a test, to see if she would confide her difficulties? How much had his sisters told him about her? Should she tell him how the suitors vanished from her doorstep after the decision of the thesis committee became known? Or how the illness that followed was to blame for her withdrawal? What a relief it had been to stay home with her books. Yes, she would confide in Mr. Palmer.
"By now you must have heard -- I am the heretic of Oyster Bay," Hattie said bravely, with a smile. Then Edward Palmer won her heart as he looked at her intently and replied, "Good for you!" He was a man of science himself, he said. He listened quietly to her story of the failed thesis with its scandalous view of early church history. The thesis committee had been unanimous in its determination that her principal reference sources -- Dr. Rhinehart's moldy Coptic scrolls -- were not authenticated, and in any case the scrolls were unacceptable Gnostic heresy, pure and simple.
"Surely you've heard all about the furor from your sister," Hattie said, feeling bolder. "My heresy was a lively topic of dinner party conversations on Long Island for months!" Edward's laughter at her wit endeared him to Hattie; all the other gentlemen she told looked a bit shocked.
How good Edward's laughter sounded! To hear her mother talk, Hattie's entire life was ruined by her assertions that Jesus had women disciples and Mary Magdalene wrote a Gospel supressed by the church.
Her affection for Edward stirred at that instant, and she could only smile at his neglect to leave her a way to reach him. The hundreds of tiny specimen drawers in the huge oak cabinets stirred her curiosity. She pulled out a drawer: inside was a small manila envelope carefully secured with red string. She unwound the string from the circular clasp and gently squeezed the sides of the envelope to look inside. All she saw was a single shriveled stalk with fragments of dry plant material, remains of leaves, perhaps. She sniffed the envelope but detected only a faint odor. Edward's special interest was in aromatic grasses and plants, which always were highly prized by horticulturists and gardeners. Edward traveled to places so remote and collected plants so rare, so subtle, few white men ever saw them before. He added these rare treasures to his growing collection of roots, stalks, leaves, and, most important, when possible, seeds. His ambition was to discover a new plant species that would bear his name, and he spent twenty years of his life in this pursuit before their marriage.
Hattie did not attend any parties or formal gatherings after she left graduate school, though gradually she accepted invitations to family picnics and outings to the beach -- always with a group of her younger cousins, who needed a chaperone. The only reason she agreed to attend a formal event like the Masque of the Blue Garden was because their neighbor Mrs. Colin James served with Hattie's mother on the bishop's fund-raising committee, and Hattie was curious to see the garden so well known for its drama and the spectacle of its mistress.
Hattie's mother wanted the party to mark the end of the seclusion Hattie assumed. Eyebrows were raised when she enrolled in graduate studies in early church history; all the other young women her age were engaged or married. After the scandal over her thesis topic, Mrs. Abbott was relieved to let the dust settle awhile, but she still hoped to find Hattie a husband. In a year or two the incident would be forgotten. By chance, Susan James's distinguished brother, Edward Palmer, arrived from an expedition abroad two days before the blue garden event.
The Masque of the Blue Garden was considered the premier event of the summer season, and Hattie thought it promised to be eccentric enough to be interesting. And so it was. Just as the full moon rose over Oyster Bay, out stepped Susan Palmer James from the arch of blue rhododendrons, dressed all in sapphire blue -- blue feathers and blue satin. She strode grandly from the far end of the blue garden along the white marble terrace next to the pool filled with fragrant blue water lilies.
Moments after her triumphant entrance, their hostess introduced Mrs. Abbott and Hattie to Edward Palmer, distinguished botanist and brother. His face and hands were tanned from his fieldwork just completed in Mexico. Hattie found him quite interesting, and while the others danced, Hattie and Edward talked about Italy. She went to England with her parents when she was a child, but she wanted to see Rome. Edward laughed when Hattie recounted her mother's fears that high church officials might excommunicate her for heresy. But Hattie's father, God bless him, suggested the church's cardinals had more pressing concerns than a Gnostic heretic. Her trip to Italy was scheduled for the following spring.
Mrs. Abbott did not trust Hattie or Hattie's father; after all, they conspired to enroll Hattie in graduate school at Harvard without her knowledge. What respectable man wanted a wife who sat in a musty library all day to pore over heretical texts? Mrs. Abbott's face assumed a stricken expression at any mention of Hattie's thesis, but her expression relaxed whenever she reminded Hattie of the size of her dowry. Mrs. Abbott talked about money almost incessantly -- who had money, how they got the money, and who lost their money. Despite her family's impeccable lineage, their wealth was in decline when Mrs. Abbott was a child. She felt quite fortunate to find a husband who did not care about such things.
Despite Mr. Abbott's disapproval of the practice, Hattie had a sizeable dowry that made Mrs. Abbott smile every time she thought of it; she liked to remind Hattie of its size.
"In that case, I hereby renounce my dowry!" Hattie used to reply. "I'd rather spend the money on travel."
"Oh nonsense, Hattie!"
"I'd rather not be married anyway -- now that I'm a heretic!" she laughed, but after she got acquainted with Edward, her opinion of marriage began to change. Edward was a remarkable man. He traveled a great deal to the most distant and fascinating destinations, and he had a wonderful gift for recounting his adventures, in which he portrayed himself humorously, as the innocent tourist hell-bent on disaster. The tourist identity was the disguise he adopted to confuse the customs officers. Some foreign governments were quite unpleasant about the export of valuable root stock and seeds.
Edward was quite irreverent about customs authorities in general, which Hattie found appealing. I am a heretic, she thought, but Mr. Palmer doesn't seem to mind. Hattie asked her father what he thought of Mr. Palmer.
"He's too old and he travels too much," her father said, "but nothing I say will stop you if your mind is made up."
She linked her arm through her father's. "My mind isn't made up," she said as they walked to the dining room together. "Mother's mind is made up." Mr. Palmer wasn't as young as the others, and like any longtime bachelor he might be set in his ways; still, he didn't seem adverse to children. Indeed, in the months that followed the garden party, Hattie saw Edward again at a picnic on the seashore and at a birthday party on the lawn for Edward's young nieces. On both occasions Edward brought along his view camera and made photographs of the children playing, and later posed everyone for a group photograph that included him too -- he tripped the shutter with a long black string as he posed with the group. Edward really could be quite appealing. Hattie had not wanted marriage or children, but Edward changed all that. Children -- the child! Suddenly she remembered the Indian child in the lilac bushes. What if the child did not find her way back to the school?
Hattie rushed downstairs and out to the south garden lawn hedged with lilacs. Next to the plate, the cup was lying on its side in the grass. Hattie didn't mind if her skirt got dirty; she crawled and searched carefully under and among the dark green leaves of the lilacs. She found a few late blossoms hidden in the lower branches; their perfume seemed stronger than the earlier blossoms; but she could not locate the child. Hattie blamed the arrival of the telegram for her thoughtlessness; she should not have taken her eyes off the child!
Hattie rushed up the steps to the fountain and pool for a better view. Beyond the lilacs, orchards of lemons and oranges stretched to the horizon. She couldn't quite see the redbrick buildings of the Indian school, but once from the third-floor balcony, Edward had pointed out a cluster of two-story buildings in the distance. The child almost certainly returned to the school; there was nothing but desert beyond the citrus groves.
She checked under the lilacs a last time just to be sure. A late afternoon breeze wafted the perfume of the yellow climbing roses on the kitchen garden wall. She still had to bathe and change clothes before she went to meet Edward's train, but the excitement of the telegram on top of the discovery of the Indian child left Hattie exhausted. On a marble bench that overlooked the gardens and orchards below, she felt herself almost shiver with anticipation, so she closed her eyes and took deep breaths as her doctor instructed. The fresh outdoor air relaxed her. The doctor's orders were to take every opportunity to relax and to avoid fatigue lest she fall ill again. She exhaled slowly, as the doctor instructed. She still had not unpacked her books or papers because the doctor advised against the resumption of her studies until they were certain she was fully recovered. Men were equipped for the rough-and-tumble of the academic world in ways women, unfortunately, were not, the doctor said. Hattie's mother looked sharply at Hattie as the doctor spoke.
Fortunately, Hattie's father entered the room just then. Bless his heart, he reminded them of Hattie's academic honors in her undergraduate studies at Vassar. Women who never opened a book suffered from nervous exhaustion -- how ridiculous to blame Hattie's studies! Mr. Abbott encouraged Hattie to continue work on her thesis regardless of the committee's decision, but she could not bring herself to even look at the manuscript or notes, though she did bring them with her to California.
The sun began its descent in the west, and the thick perfume of orange blossoms washed over her in the breeze. Hattie was considering whether to send a note to the superintendent of the Indian school when the cook hurried across the terrace breathlessly.
"Mrs. Palmer! Mrs. Palmer! He's here! Dr. Palmer has just arrived!" Hattie stood up and looked beyond the fountain in time to see him step through the French doors to the terrace. Hattie waved and called out a greeting as she ran. She paused an instant to look him over for signs of injury, then rushed to him. Edward smiled and embraced her.
"I was afraid something was wrong," she said, the words muffled by his chest.
Only the weather was wrong, he explained; one hurricane after another. He kept her close to his side with his arm around her and neither of them spoke as the huge red sun slipped behind the groves of oranges. She found his height and fitness very attractive; men half his age were not as lean and fit as Edward, despite the lingering effects of his injury in Brazil. Before their courtship commenced in earnest, Edward insisted she understand the impediment; he was so tender and ardent in all other ways Hattie was confident he would make a full recovery. She leaned closer to him and kissed his cheek; he smiled and glanced down at her warmly before he looked west again at the sunset as though something was on his mind.
They remained on the terrace in silence even after the sun went down. A gentle wind moved through the white climbing roses heavy with perfume. At last Edward shifted his weight to give his good leg a rest and glanced toward the orchid house.
"How's the monkey getting along?" he asked.
"Oh he's a jolly little thing!" Hattie inhaled sharply as suddenly she remembered the child.
"Oh Edward! How could I forget! Linnaeus found an Indian child hiding under the lilacs this morning."
"A bit late in the season for runway Indians," he said. "Usually by this time they've sent them home for the summer or they've farmed them out."
"I was about to send a note down to the school, but the telegram arrived -- in the excitement I forgot."
"Where is the child now?" he asked, looking down past the pool to the lilacs.
"I'm not sure. I went back to find her just now and -- "
Hattie felt her face flush. "I think so. I'm not sure. I saw long hair. You said the Indian boys -- "
" -- have all their hair cut off."
"Yes, but now I can't find her."
"No need to worry. She probably went back."
After the sun went down, Indigo crept out of her hiding place under the trellis of cascading white roses. She ran from the lilacs into the white garden because it was enclosed by a low rock wall that concealed her. While the twilight was still bright, she moved cautiously, listening for footsteps or voices. She peeked around the corner of the rock wall and saw the stone walk led to stone steps up to an arch of climbing red roses. What a fragrance they had! Grandma Fleet used to talk about the flowers the Mormon ladies grew, but never had she or anyone ever talked about flowers so fragrant and big as these.
She wanted to run right over to examine these red giants more closely, but she waited until the twilight darkened a bit more. The white blossoms seemed almost to glow and the wonderful perfumes only increased with the darkness. On stalks taller than she was, huge white lilies leaned their faces down to hers. She went from flower to flower, burying her nose in each blossom as deeply as she could, licking the sweet pollen from her lips. The night air was delightfully cool and the sensation of the rich damp soil under her feet made Indigo want to dance. She had to hold the stupid long skirt of the school uniform in one hand to keep from tripping over it; a moment later she pulled off the skirt and danced between the white lilies and white irises, around the white lilacs next to the gate. As she danced, Indigo looked up at the great field of stars like so many little bean blossoms; Grandma Fleet could travel up there now, but where were Sister Salt and Mama tonight?
After she got tired of dancing, she sat on the low wall overgrown with white honeysuckle to watch the moon rise from the same direction she must travel to get home. She made a plan: The school dress with its long sleeves and long skirt would serve as a blanket as well as a pack to carry any food she might find around here. What she really needed, what she really missed most, was her gourd canteen. She didn't have much time. She had to find a place to hide before daybreak. She might need another day to locate the things she would need for the journey home.
The west wind stirred and cooled her face; she inhaled the scent of orange and lemon blossoms, then suddenly caught the scent of roasted meat that wafted down the path from the back of the house. Indigo's stomach grumbled about the scanty food. She crept out from the low wall and made her way to the steps that brought her from the lilacs and past the fountain and pool. From the top step Indigo could see the fan shape of the gardens -- in orderly squares and rectangles, outlined by low walls of stone bright with the moon's light. Orange and lemon groves surrounded the house and the gardens and a number of outbuildings and sheds. The place was almost as big as the boarding school.
With the moon high overhead, she could see the white stone steps and paths clearly. She needed to find the best hiding place before morning. She slipped off the school dress and underclothes -- how delicious the open air and warm breeze felt against her bare skin. Clothing suffocated her skin; naked in the moon's light, she felt alert and invigorated. Grandma Fleet was right: too much clothing wasn't healthy. She skipped down the steps, two at a hop, past the white garden's snaking branches and thickets of white bougainvillea; she brushed aside the flowering branches and saw three steps down. Below, planted in spirals and whorls, were blood red dianthus, red peonies, red dahlias, and red poppies; bright red cosmos and scarlet hollyhocks made the backdrop along the east wall. Indigo's heart pounded with excitement at all the red flowers -- oh Sister Salt would love to hear about this garden of red flowers. By daylight the red garden would be even better.
She picked handfuls of fat rose hips and ate herself to sleep, curled up under the rosebushes with her head at the edge of a stone step. She awoke when the color of the sky was dark red, almost black, the color of the hollyhocks at the burned house. Rapidly the sky became the color of the roses, and finally the sky was blood red. Too bad she had to get going, because Grandma Fleet always advised the girls to collect as many new seeds as they could carry home. The more strange and unknown the plant, the more interested Grandma Fleet was; she loved to collect and trade seeds. Others did not grow a plant unless it was food or medicine, but Sand Lizards planted seeds to see what would come; Sand Lizards ate nearly everything anyway, and Grandma said they never found a plant they couldn't use for some purpose.
There were other gardens she could see only partially because of tall bushes and trees that enclosed them. The sunny gardens, the shady gardens, the damp gardens, the water garden -- where was the garden with the beans and corn? Indigo followed the stone path to the point where it forked; one branch turned back toward the house, the other branch led down four steps to a sandy border at the edge of the orange grove.
While she ate oranges in the shade of the trees, she surveyed the house and the gardens. Where did they get all the water? The land here was sandy desert nearly as dry as home -- the panic grass and amaranth grew just as they did at home. She heard a buggy and horses, then voices from the road beyond the house; she had to find a better hiding place or the school search parties were certain to find her.
Indigo crept back up the steps, past the garden of red flowers and the white flower garden to the stone path that turned back to the barn and outbuildings behind the house. She listened for footsteps and voices but heard only the cicadas and a cactus wren; she darted around the corner of the barn to the strange glass house she noticed the afternoon before. The whitewash on the glass weathered off to reveal glimpses of green foliage and cascading spikes of white wisteria that grew up and out the roof vent. How wonderful the scent was! She closed her eyes and inhaled again and again; then she heard a sound -- tap-tap-tap-tap, silence, then four more taps. She froze in her tracks; the hair on the back of her neck stood up; she turned quickly to locate the source of the sound. Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap! There it was again; someone was tapping on the inside of the glass house. She glanced over her shoulder as she retreated down the stone path to the gardens and caught a glimpse of the shining eyes and face of the little hairy monkey man who found her the previous morning. The monkey motioned for her to come to him.
Copyright © 1999 by Leslie Marmon Silko
2. Motherhood is a strong theme throughout the novel. What does this book suggest about the importance of mothers and mothering? Could the book be viewed as an argument for a matriarchal society?
3. Many of the male characters in the book disappoint or deceive their mates. Both Edward and Candy eventually drop out of the narrative, and even the Messiah himself fails to reappear. The novel's final pages depict the women characters taking care of themselves and one another. What is the significance of this? How do you feel about Silko's portrayal of men? Are men expendable in the world she creates?
4. What is Edward's ultimate failing? Is he naive? Is he a poor businessman? Does he simply encounter bad luck? Could one argue that he is punished because he sullies his passions for botany and archaeology with dubious financial schemes? What does the book say about the dangers of materialism and the consequences of putting a price on natural treasures?
5. Compare Indigo's spiritual, survivalist relationship to nature with Edward's scientific, capitalist approach. Does the book suggest that one is more ethical than the other? Do the events of the book support the idea that we have a moral responsibility toward the natural world?
6. How do the diverse gardens featured throughout the novel reflect both the differences among cultures and the universal human instinct to shape and control nature?
7. Contrast the Indians' yearly Ghost Dance with the annual Masque of the Blue Garden hosted by Hattie's sister-in-law, Susan. How are thepreparations for each similar? Different? What do these gatherings reveal about the values, beliefs, and lifestyles of their participants?
8. Compare and contrast the book's depictions of the affluence of high society and the abundant riches of nature. Do you find the moment when Indigo trades her fancy new dresses for food at the end of the novel happy or sad?
9. Indigo is not formally educated, but she is very bright. How would you characterize her intelligence? Discuss Indigo's personification of the natural world and the close relationships she develops with her pets. Why are these behaviors perceived as alarming by many of the white people she meets throughout the book? How do the challenges Indigo faces among the Sand Lizards differ from those she encounters during her travels with Hattie and Edward?
10. Discuss the role of the supernatural in the narrative and in the lives of the characters. Recall Indigo's sighting of the Messiah during the first Ghost Dance, Aunt Bronwyn's belief in the sacred stones, the mysterious white light Hattie sees in her aunt's garden, and the gypsy Delena's ability to read the future with cards. How does the book explore the interplay of religion, mysticism, and spirituality?
11. By the end of the book, Hattie abandons her thesis about the early church -- and even some of her Christian beliefs. Which experiences and characters most transform Hattie's views of religion and spirituality?
12. Are you surprised that Hattie does not adopt Indigo at the end of the book? Did you hope that she would? In the end, what do Hattie and Indigo gain from one another? Which of them has been more profoundly changed by the end of their journey and the book?
Posted July 12, 2004
If someone had described this book to me, I would have probably never picked it up. I was enthralled with the way Silko wove so many pieces together! I felt like I got many different stories at once, yet all the same. I came away from it very satisfied.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2001
The first chapter of this book was hard for me to get into, and I thought I would be disappointed in this book. But, I stuck with it, and soon I couldn't put it down! It turns out to be a wonderful read. There is so much going on with the characters, you can't wait to find out what will happen to them, and if the sisters will ever be reunited together in their 'Gardens in the Dunes.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 16, 2008
No text was provided for this review.