Photo: Laguna Pueblo Author Leslie Marmon Silko at a book reading in 2011
In Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1992 novel, Almanac of the Dead, a mass migration of poor Indigenous people begin a long march from Central America, through Mexico, to the United States.
These millions of poor “Latin” Americans migrants threaten the political stability of the United States itself. At the same time, African nations throw off the colonial yoke and Europe is in a panic.
The movement is so large, one character wonders if White Americans will choose Blacks or Latinos as their potential allies as U.S. demographics change so rapidly.
Almanac’s cast of characters is as large as Game of Thrones, spanning from Arizona to Chiapas, Mexico. There’s CIA-backed drug runners; a beautiful blonde architect for the rich whose secret lover is a Cuban spy; a psychic Yaqui woman who frightens and surprises herself when she predicts a political assassination; a White supremacist arms dealers; a Black Cherokee Vietnam vet and frustrated revolutionary; and many more.
Its part Mexican telenovela, as if written from the viewpoint of the Indigenous house servants and not that of the European elites. It’s also part western (as in cowboys and Indians) and US gangster story, and dripping with irreverent humor.
Silko wrote Almanac in the late 1980s and early 1990s, publishing it in 1992. The Zapatista Revolt of 1994 broke out in Chiapas, the same Mexican state where Silko predicted it would. She makes other revelations—such as international organ trafficking and the CIA dumping of cocaine in Black communities–that are now openly discussed.
Silko herself grew up at Laguna Pueblo, and Almanac is steeped in Indigenous spirituality. Silko said she was also influenced by nuclear physics, Shakespeare, and boxes of newspaper clippings she collected in the 1980s.
When it was published, reviewers did not seem to know what to make of the novel. Since when do Indigenous authors write about the future? Aren’t they supposed to be stuck in the past?
One reviewer, in Time or Newsweek (I don’t recall, it was 30 years ago), said he was born into the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) elite and that Almanac of the Dead brought US civilization to an end a bit too convincingly.
To be clear, Silko declares that the current capitalist system is at stake, and for the sake of human survival, all of humanity must revert back to Indigenous lifeways.
Almanac of the Dead is a prophetic dive of Indigenous Futurism. It’s truly epic, with a climax so big it can only be imagined. But don’t expect it to ever be made into a movie or streaming series, unless Indigenous people do manage to take back the Americas, and convert the colonizers to a better way of life.