Cover image for Possessing the secret of joy
Possessing the secret of joy
Walker, Alice, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Washington Square Press, [1997?]

Physical Description:
288 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Geographic Term:
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X Adult Fiction Central Library
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A New York Times bestseller, this novel tells the story of a tribal African woman now living in North America, who tries to reconcile her African heritage with her experience as a modern woman in America.

Author Notes

Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel The Color Purple. Her other bestselling novels include By the Light of My Father's Smile, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and The Temple of My Familiar. She is also the author of two collections of short stories, three collections of essays, five volumes of poetry, and several children's books. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Born in Eaton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California. Like so many characters in her fiction, Alice Walker was born into a family of sharecroppers in Eaton, Georgia. She began Spelman College on a scholarship and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965. While still in college, Walker became active in the civil rights movement and continued her involvement after she graduated, serving as a voter registration worker in Georgia. She also worked in a Head Start program in Mississippi and was on the staff of the New York City welfare department. She has lectured and taught at several colleges and universities and currently operates a publishing house, Wild Trees Press, of which she is a co-founder.

Walker began her literary career as a poet, publishing Once: Poems in 1968. The collection reflects her experiences in the civil rights movement and her travels in Africa. Her second collection of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), is a celebration of the struggle against oppression and racism. In between these two collections, she published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), the story of Ruth Copeland, a young black girl, and her grandfather, Grange, who brutalizes his own family out of the frustrations of racial prejudice and his own sense of inadequacy.

Walker's first collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), established her special concern for the struggles, hardships, loyalties, and triumphs of black women, a powerful force in the rest of her fiction. Meridian (1976), her second novel, is the story of Meridian Hill, a civil rights worker. In her second collection of short stories, You Can't Keep A Good Woman Down (1981), Walker again portrays black women struggling against sexual, racial, and economic oppression.

Walker's third novel, The Color Purple (1982), brought her the national recognition denied her earlier works. Through this story of the sharecropper Celie and the abuses she endures, Walker draws together the themes that have run through her earlier work into a concentrated and powerful attack on racism and sexism, and produces a triumphant celebration of the spirit and endurance of black women. The book received the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a successful film.

Walker describes her most recent novel, The Temple of My Familiar (1989) as "a romance of the last 500,000 years." The book is a blend of myth and history revolving around three marriages. As the married couples tell their stories, they explore both their origins and the inner life of modern African Americans.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Less manipulator than instructor--but both are the rightful roles of the artist--Walker makes the reader wince at the subject matter of her new novel while at the same time admire the adroit (which means, in this case, nonsensational) way she treats it. She follows her widely discussed novel, The Color Purple, and its less-talked-about successor, The Temple of My Familiar, with a certain-to-be-read fictional venture into an unenlightened social practice that unfortunately still exists in some parts of the world. Female circumcision is depicted by Walker as mutilation of not only the body but the psyche; specifically, Walker details the life of Tashi, a woman who grew up in the Olinka tribe in Africa but spent most of her adult life in the U.S. As a child, when the custom of circumcision is ordinary carried out among Olinka females, Tashi was spared; later, though, her muddled need to reidentify with her origins causes her to submit to the tribal circumciser's blade. Rather than reknitting her soul to that of her people, the episode and its disastrous consequences alienate her body from sexuality and her mind from reality. How she reconciles herself to her plight--and in the process secures vengeance for the many young women who have undergone mutilation before her--is a staggering, but befitting, climax to a novel poised in its avoidance of polemics, confident in the grit of its language, and beautiful in its dual understanding of inhumanity and humanity. (Reviewed Apr. 15, 1992)0151731527Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pulitzer Prize winner Walker illustrates the truism that violence begets violence in this strong-voiced but often stridentan obvious novel? and polemical novel. The focus of Walker's rage is the practice of female circumcision in African cultures. Her tale concerns Tashi, a character who made fleeting appearances in The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar , and who here represents an archetypal figure, not so much a woman as a mouthpiece for feminist distress. Tashi grows up in a small African village but initially escapes the customary clitorodectomy. Eventually she is coerced into having the operation as a means of offering fealty to the sinister politician called Our Leader. When she moves to the U.S. with her husband and assumes a new identity as Evelyn Johnson, her pain and anger, accumulating the suffering of the ages, bubble to the surface in a lingering madness that therapy does not assuage and thatwhy not delete this next phrase (through `finally') as point is made in previous sentence and `accumulate' is repeated, and incorporate the point about ``the ages'' into the previous sentenc finally culminates in murder. Walker tells the story in very brief chapters, each loaded with the sense of the historical importance she wishes to convey, but the fragile narrative cannot support the weight of her overwrought prose. Walker's protest against ok? author's ''message'' in the last review ``what men . . . do to us'' cannot be faulted; its guise as a novel, however, can. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A peripheral character in The Color Purple ( LJ 6/1/82) and The Temple of My Familiar ( LJ 3/15/88), Tashi becomes the focus of this welcome new work. Tashi, who marries Celie's son Adam, submits to female circumcision partially out of loyalty to the threatened tribal customs of her people, the Olinka. As a result, she endures physical pain and long-lasting emotional trauma. Not a sympathetically drawn victim, the tortured Tashi stretches to bridge two continents and to understand why women must undergo this torture, even at the hands of their mothers, for the pleasure of men. Though she often succumbs to madness, Tashi eventually takes possession of the secret of joy. Her compelling story is every Eve's account of those ``whose chastity belt was made of leather, or of silk and diamonds, or of fear and not of our own `flesh.' '' This is not a sequel to Walker's previous novels, but it easily equals, if not surpasses, their excellence.--Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.