Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Almanac of the Dead remains Silko’s longest and most ambitious novel, with hundreds of characters populating multiple plot narratives with overlaying cultures. Structuring the book as nineteen books within six parts, Silko truly provides a “Five-Hundred Year Map,” not only literally within the outside covers of the published book but also in the multiple narratives that describe a moral history of North America as individual characters reveal the ideas, the passions, and their own understandings of history. Tucson provides the geographic center of an intersection of cultures that brings together Mafia capo Sonny Blue from Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Pueblo gardener Sterling down from Laguna Pueblo; Wilson Weasel Tail the Barefoot Hopi down from Winslow, Arizona; and Seese from California, seeking her missing child and connecting with Lecha, the television psychic who may or may not be able to aid (or be interested in aiding) her, among sundry others.
Bartolomeo’s Freedom School, a Cuban-influenced and-financed school of revolution in Mexico City, provides the setting for the beautiful, intellectual architecture student Alegria, who sells out by marrying wealthy Menardo and building an incongruous and doomed luxury retreat in the jungle outside Tuxtla Gutierrez. Silko shows how cocaine is smuggled northward across the border to Tucson by revolutionaries, who then use the money to finance the purchase of arms for their continuing insurrection...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Almanac of the Dead Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The narrative of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead centers on Tucson, Arizona, and the intertwining lives and events of its numerous people, among whom are “speculators, confidence men, embezzlers, lawyers, judges, police and other criminals, as well as addicts and pushers.” Hauntingly, Silko’s novel depicts a society of almost utter depravity, identifies as the source of this state the atrocities committed against Native Americans, and finally predicts the coming end of this cruel reign with the rise of indigenous peoples and the endurance of the sacred Earth.
Almanac of the Dead begins with a prophecy contained in the ancient tribal texts of the Americas: “Ancient prophecies foretold the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The ancient prophecies also foretell the disappearance of all things European.” Silko’s story echoes that of the prophecy, depicting the downfall of the “criminals” in her novel and the commencement of indigenous people’s struggle to regain stolen land. The novel consists of six sections, each divided into books and further divided into short vignettes that adopt more than thirty characters’ points of view. Silko uses this structure to approximate oral tradition, thus making Almanac of the Dead a calendar of movement through the motion of people, events, and spirits that make up the book’s present, past, and future society.
Tucson, the location to which all the...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Tucson, Arizona, is “home to an assortment of speculators, confidence men, embezzlers, lawyers, judges, police and other criminals.” It is also the home of “addicts and pushers,” and they all have been coming here since “the 1880’s and the Apache Wars.” It is now the 1980’s, one hundred years later, and unrest is increasing in South and Central America. The U.S. government is sending drugs and arms south across the U.S.-Mexico border to support right-wing regimes.
Meanwhile, refugees are fleeing north, crossing into the United States legally if they can, but by whatever means if they cannot. Transients, too, are drawn to Tucson because of its proximity to the border, and huge encampments of people with nowhere else to go have formed around the city. Tucson is a crossroads: Sooner or later, many people will pass through on their way to somewhere else; Tucson is a stepping-stone to a different life.
Sterling, a Laguna Pueblo Indian, had fallen asleep on the bus to Phoenix and ended up in Tucson instead. Exiled from the pueblo for reasons that are not entirely clear to him, but which are possibly related to his detachment from tribal affairs, he eventually finds work as a gardener on the ranch owned by Zeta and Ferro, and works alongside Ferro’s former lover, Paulie, a security expert. Sterling chooses to overlook that they are clearly conducting illegal business and focuses on the positive elements of his new situation. When...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)
Part 1: The United States
A great change is coming. It has been predicted by the “old ones” in The Almanac of the Dead. Grandmother Yoeme has chosen twin sisters, Zeta and Lecha, as the new caretakers of the ancient almanac. The sisters must work together to transcribe it. The almanac contains ancient secrets that are the answers to many of life’s mysteries. Estranged from her family for many years, Yoeme has been secretly returning undetected to observe her grandchildren. None of the others has been worthy until the twin girls come along. Lecha and Zeta seem to have inherited Yoeme’s psychic abilities. Yoeme takes the girls under her wing and when she is finally convinced she can entrust them with transcribing the almanac, she dies.
When Zeta and Lecha are fourteen years old, their mother dies. Their father is a geologist who was sixty when the twins were born. He asks for his daughters to be sent to him in Tucson, then immediately ships them off to boarding school. Before they leave, he shows the girls a ranch that he has purchased in the mountains outside of Tucson. They will inherit this ranch some day, he informs them. The girls grow up being vaguely aware of their ultimate destiny with regard to transcribing The Almanac of the Dead, but it takes them years to finally come around to embarking upon the task.
The sisters call these years their “coyote years." Lecha travels from "lover to lover” and from “city to city” where she earns a living thanks to her psychic powers. She even lives briefly in Alaska as the lover of a dogsled racer. There, she meets two Eskimo women, one of whom can crash airplanes with her mind. Lecha returns to the United States where she becomes a talk show celebrity psychic. Her psychic powers are lucrative and can be used for good or evil. They allow her to conjure up evil spells that she markets as “lover’s revenge” to spurned paramours seeking to get even. She also helps the police locate people using “clues” she obtains from The Almanac of the Dead. The ancient almanac has information about how to read people and how to discern clues from nature. Lecha adds her own psychic visions and evaluations to the almanac. She can locate only dead people, however. What good is that, she asks herself? Those who have lost loved ones only come to her to confirm their sorrow. She grows restless. Early in her coyote years,...
(The entire section is 8568 words.)