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Gardens in the Dunes

A Novel

A sweeping, multifaceted tale of a young Native American pulled between the cherished traditions of a heritage on the brink of extinction and an encroaching white culture, Gardens in the Dunes is the powerful story of one woman’s quest to reconcile two worlds that are diametrically opposed.

At the center of this struggle is Indigo, who is ripped from her tribe, the Sand Lizard people, by white soldiers who destroy her home and family. Placed in a government school to learn the ways of a white child, Indigo is rescued by the kind-hearted Hattie and her worldly husband, Edward, who undertake to transform this complex, spirited girl into a “proper” young lady. Bit by bit, and through a wondrous journey that spans the European continent, traipses through the jungles of Brazil, and returns to the rich desert of Southwest America, Indigo bridges the gap between the two forces in her life and teaches her adoptive parents as much as, if not more than, she learns from them.

Gardens in the Dunes
Discussion Points

1. Do you consider this a feminist novel, or simply a novel that features strong female characters? Is there a difference between the two?
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 the preparations 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?

Leslie Marmon Silko, a former professor of English and fiction writing, is the author of novels, short stories, essays, poetry, articles, and screenplays. She has won numerous awards and fellowships for her work. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Suzanne Ruta The New York Times Book Review Rich, intriguing...a mix of myth, allegory, Victorian children's tale, and adventure yarn, laced with readings in Southwest history.

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.

More books from this author: Leslie Marmon Silko