A meditative, richly imaged (perhaps a shade too richly) fictional memoir having to do with the secret darks and the secure, loving frame of family. Here, the narrator is the granddaughter of Basque immigrants to Nevada. ``Under Grandma's dining room table it was dark and warm like the earth...and the room would fill with the smell of the coffee,'' while above there was ``the clear, pure, crystalline ring'' of adult voices, which ``sheltered, encircled the darkness.'' The narrator remembers her beloved silver-haired grandmother, like an angel, who raised five boys; later restless grandfather escaped to a sheep ranch and a land he loved—of aspens in a blaze of light, snow and pines and sage. Then there is the trip back to the family roots in Basque country, where Father wrote his book and the young girl saw the ``green hills'' for the first time. Gradually, she adjusted to school (a grim ``Citadel''), and the gray, opaque language. On holiday, she watched with the villagers the ancient dances that held old, old secrets. And far below the Citadel lay a labyrinth of tunnels in which a boy's prank became a sinister terror—another deep vein in the language of the green hills. With the year's stay over, the girl is frantic to get home to ``the smell of dust and sage and pine...the language new and clean and lucid.'' Now an adult, she reflects on crises attacking the family- -from a feud to inevitable deaths—and knows her children will know nothing of ancient, blood-deep imperatives because a grandmother, holding in trust those she could not see, willed it so. Many sharp poetic insights, but as fiction some of the pulsating prose can be wearying: ``The name regathering itself, asserting itself, cleansing itself. Returning, returning.'' A brocade of bright conceits that needs more air and space.
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