The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir
Leslie Marmon Silko
336 pages, hardcover: $25.95.
Viking, October.

The big arroyo has no attachment to the way things are. The arroyo is the space the water and the boulders and other debris pass through in floods, the space that desert animals and I move through. The space that is the arroyo changes with every flood.

More than 30 years after publishing  her first novel, Leslie Marmon Silko has penned a self-portrait. A poet, essayist and short-story writer as well as the author of three novels -- Ceremony, Almanac of the Dead and Gardens in the Dunes -- Silko is undoubtedly one of the West's most influential writers. She's also notoriously private, which makes The Turquoise Ledge all the more alluring.

Silko's memoir begins with recollections of her childhood in the Pueblo of Laguna, a reservation an hour west of Albuquerque. She writes of horses and sandstone, of blue corn enchiladas and of hunting deer with her father on the flanks of Mount Taylor. Silko relays a complex family history: She descends from the Laguna and Cherokee tribes as well as tribes in Texas, but her family's roots also extend into Mexico and Europe. Her mother's father belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and her father's family's household included Juana, one of four young Navajo sisters captured by Spanish slave hunters during the 1823 military campaign against the tribe.

Most of the memoir, however, concerns the author's daily life in Arizona's Tucson Mountains, where she has lived since the 1970s. To Silko, these mountains represent home -- and healing. Readers learn about the trails she explores and the beauty she encounters, and come to  understand her fierce sense of right and wrong, particularly when it comes to wildlife and developers, earth and bulldozers.

This is not a book for readers who like to put their favorite writers inside neat boxes. Silko generally relies on her childhood memories of places and faces and doesn't insist on resolution or redemption. Nor does she stuff her memories, stories and facts into a linear narrative. Silko is more interested in the landscape of the Tucson Mountains and the way clouds form to sometimes drop rain than she is in making sense of her own history -- and that is much of this unusual memoir's appeal.