"Only silence has no ancestor."|
- from The Old People
Since the beginnings of darkest silence the people of a mythical island have spent their days tying the ancient knot that binds them to their ancestors. To tie this knot they must dig a hole; to dig a hole they first must have fire; and to make a fire that is hot enough for hole digging, this knot that they have been tying for countless generations must finally be tied. From silence to mud to rope to knot to wood to words to fire, the Old People will work to tie this knot under the cool shade of the island's original knotmaking tree.
Content and Organization
The book is organized into three parts. In the first and longest chapter ("The Knot") the Old People tie their knot. In the second ("The Digging") the islanders overcome a calamity of new things to dig the hole that will allow them to tie this knot. In the third and final section ("Fire") a cosmogonic story is told of the Old People's acquisition of fire and how the world's original knot maker once arose from warm mud to tie the first knot of the world.
Provocative in voice and style, without mainstays of conventional fiction - specificity of time and place, linearity of plot, dialogue, individualized protagonists; all are absent here - the story portrays the sights and sounds of a world that has been lost. Using primary words as a metaphor for the island's seemingly limited yet infinitely diverse and self-sustaining resources, the book conveys the life rhythms of the Old People and their world: the unique cadence that emerges from the ancient juxtaposition of silence, then language, then silence once again.
This allegorical work tells the story of a knot that is made and, by elision, encourages reflection about the trajectory of our own society. In a world of mindless and incessant change, the story reminds us to pay homage to our past and to cherish "the things that stay forever" above "the things that merely come and go."