Earthsong: Excerpts

(Copied with permission from Suzette’s SFWA website to preserve for posterity’s sake.)

by Suzette Haden Elgin


Foreword, page 1; pages 10-11

My name is Nazareth Joanna Chornyak; I was a woman of the Linguist Lines. I died of a broken heart in the summer of 2289, at Chornyak Barren House, on that day when all the Aliens suddenly returned to their homeworlds; I was one hundred and twenty-one years old at the time….

I want to answer a number of important questions for you. I want to explain to you why the Aliens abandoned humankind, and what that meant for us, and how it turned out in the end. I want to tell you how the worlds — that had been almost Edens for a while — far too quickly returned to the crime and misery that had always been humankind’s lot. I want to tell you about the coming of the Icehouse Effect, which put a crucial end to the lives of so many millions before it was over. You may not particularly want to know what happened to Láadan, the language constructed by the women of the Lines to express the perceptions of women, but that story is also important. You may not be curious about these things — but unless you know about them you are blind and deaf and numb in the world.

And then there is the story of the founding of the Church of Our Lady of the StarTangle, and the flying chapels it sent out into the far reaches of space, and the story of the Music Grammar Teachers. I want to tell you about all of that. I want to tell you about PICOTA, the Pan-Indian Council of the Americas, and how they helped the rest of us in a time when help was desperately needed, without worrying about whether help was deserved. So many stories; so much information!

I promise you; I give you my word. If you will give me your perceptions for a while, for so long as it takes you to read this book … if you will bear with me as I try to speak to you from beyond space and beyond time … if you will use your magnificent human brain to fill in the empty space left by this method of taletelling that is the only one available to me now … it will be worth it.

I promise you; you will not be sorry.

I promise you; it will help.

Chapter One, pages 21-22

On the third day he himself went out to talk to her, hunkering down beside her and looking carefully off into the middle distance so she wouldn’t be embarrassed.

“Daughter,” he said to her this time, because she had begun to earn his respect, “how long is this going to go on?”

“As long as it takes,” she said. And then, “As long as it takes, Grandfather.”

His breath was long and slow in the silence. All around them the grasshoppers were making leaps, their landings much louder than could be justified by their size and weight. He had always thought that they sounded like popcorn popping. A big rust-colored one sailed onto his right thigh, and he let it sit there; it wasn’t bothering anything, and grasshoppers don’t eat bluejeans.

“You are an Anglo,” he said.

“I know that,” she said. “And you are an Indian. There’s nothing either one of us can do about it.”

“Our ceremonies are useless to Anglos.”

“I don’t think so, Grandfather. Anglos are human beings. They are just like you, and just like all your relatives.”

He frowned, distracted for a minute, wondering why the rain didn’t bother the grasshoppers, sure that when he was a boy grasshoppers had sheltered from the rain like any other creature with good sense, wondering when the grasshoppers had changed and why he hadn’t noticed. And then he said, “But their souls are very different from ours.”

“I don’t think so, Grandfather,” she said again. And she added, “My greatgrandmother Nazareth Chornyak didn’t think so, either. And she’d better be right, or we are all in terrible trouble.”

Will Bluecrane’s mouth tightened, deepening the net of wrinkles all around it. Bringing her greatgrandmother into this was pulling rank. She was getting above herself, doing that. And he got up and went back into the domes and left her there.

Reprinted by permission of The Feminist Press, at The City University of New York, from Suzette Haden Elgin, EARTHSONG. Copyright 1994 by Suzette Haden Elgin. Available with a new afterword by Susan M. Squier and Julie Vedder in 2002 from The Feminist Press. No part of this excerpt may be sold, reproduced, transmitted, or used in any way without prior written permission from the Feminist Press at The City University of New York.

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