Almanac of the Dead Additional Summary

Leslie Marmon Silko


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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 characters have some tie as well as the place where the majority of the action takes place, is established as a city of witchery, presently and historically. It is peopled with whites and “breeds” whose ancestors profited from the U.S.-Apache wars and with Indians who deny their heritage. The majority of the characters, of European, Mexican, and Native American descent, participate in illegal activities: smuggling of guns, alcohol, and drugs; murdering for hire or for...

(The entire section is 793 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Extended Summary

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...

(The entire section is 8568 words.)