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By the Light of My Father's Smile: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) [Kindle Edition]

Alice Walker
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A family from the United States goes to the remote Sierras in Mexico--Susannah, the writer-to-be; her sister, Magdalena; and their father and mother. There, amid an endangered band of mixed-race blacks and Indians called the Mundo, they begin an encounter that will change them more than they could ever dream.

Moving back and forth in time, and among unforgettable characters and their magical stories, Walker brilliantly explores the ways in which a woman's denied sexuality leads to the loss of the much prized and necessary original self--and how she regains that self, even as her family's past of lies and love is transformed. . . .

Editorial Reviews Review

The Mundo are a new tribe, created by the intermingling of escaped Black slaves and native Indians in the Mexican Sierras. Ineligible for academic funding, a husband-and-wife team of African American anthropologists pose as Christian missionaries to secure sponsorship to live among the Mundo and study their culture. This soul-stifling deception underlies the family tragedy at the heart of Alice Walker's novel, her first in six years. The father, preaching the message of his puritanical Protestant sponsors, is "sucked into the black cloth" of Christianity and blinded to the Mundo's life-affirming ways. When he discovers his daughter Magdalena's affair with a young Mundo, he beats her with a belt, thus estranging himself from both her and the younger daughter, Susannah. The first of several narrative voices to speak is his. Dead, he has become an "angel" who observes his daughters from the "other side" and seeks to make amends for the pain he inflicted on them in life.

It is the conceit of By the Light of My Father's Smile that angels have complete access to the consciousness of the living beings they observe. One of the book's very first scenes involves the ebullient lovemaking of Susannah and her partner, Pauline, reported in sweaty detail by the angelic paternal voyeur. Highly explicit, this set piece is a kind of guerrilla assault on our sensibilities, preparing us to receive Walker's urgent message--that sexuality and spirituality are inextricable, that denying one causes the other to atrophy as well. The blessings of fathers are, according to this canon, essential to the sexual flowering and spiritual maturity of their female offspring. It is in the loss, the conferring, and the claiming of these blessings that the novel finds its narrative thrust.

By the Light of My Father's Smile is intended perhaps less as a story than as a parable presenting Walker's cosmology for the new millennium--one that synthesizes ancient and modern wisdoms in a way that's as artistically daring as it is politically correct: Sex is good, repression is evil. Dominant is bad, distaff is good. European culture is dead meat, the third world is wise, there is ongoing commerce between the living and the dead, great orgasms shall set us free. Many readers will agree that a world built upon these precepts surely would be preferable to the one we now inhabit. Here, as in previous fictions, Walker the storyteller is spellbinding, Walker the preacher-theorist, less so. On the other hand, what other novelist risks so bravely or with such generosity, and seeks to give so much? With the proper mindset, Walker assures us, anyone can become a member of the Mundo tribe. --Joyce Thompson

From Publishers Weekly

A passionate but somewhat misguided polemic against the abuses of patriarchy, Walker's first novel since Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992) tells the story of two daughters who overcome the sexual repression forced on them by their anthropologist father. In the early 1940s, the Robinson family travels to rural Mexico, where Mr. Robinson (who, unnamed, narrates most of the novel from beyond the grave) and his wife, Langley, are studying a doomed people known as the Mundo, the wise, egalitarian descendants of escaped slaves and Indians. The central event of the book comes when Mr. Robinson, ordinarily a gentle man, finds his 15-year-old daughter Magdalena having sex with a local boy, Manuelito, and beats her, in a scene witnessed by Magdalena's younger sister, Susannah. To the relief of Mr. Robinson's repentant ghost, both daughters find ways of fulfilling themselves despite this trauma: after an encounter with a fortune-telling dwarf (the village outcast in the native home of Susannah's Greek husband), Susannah leaves her husband and enters into a loving lesbian relationship; Magdalena, now a hugely obese academic, bumps into Manuelito (now an alcoholic, crippled, impotent Vietnam vet) on an airplane and, against all odds?in the book's one disappointingly reticent love scene?reconsummates their love. The deeper reconciliation between father and daughters takes place in the spirit realm. Even Walker's fans are likely to find the novel hard going, as the narrative moves confusingly back and forth between living and dead characters, the past and the present. Between the highly schematic plot and the characters' habit of speaking in self-righteous pieties and (fictitious) indigenous proverbs, Walker can test one's patience. Yet her spare, charged language, and her earnestness (whatever one may think of her extravagant historical claims or her essentialism in matters of race) will no doubt continue to win her a wide readership. Author tour. Editor, Kate Medina; agent, Wendy Weil.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3508 KB
  • Print Length: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 7, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0078XCOG0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,922 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone! December 26, 2001
By A Customer
Alice Walker is one of those writers whose work has the power to reach out and touch you when you need it most. This and I believe many of her other works are meant to be read at certain critical points in a specific persons life. Points when it is necessary to come to terms with a particular complex of issues. I thought it was telling when one reviewer said that the pre-occupation by some of the characters in this book with their personal traumas was unrealistic. Trauma is by its very nature pre-occupying. And what becomes lodged in an individual persons psyche as a result of the trauma they have experienced is typically unique to that individual (no one can judge the magnitude of pain in anothers heart). As a person who has been hurt reading the words of Alice Walker not only lets me know that another is serving as a witness to my pain it also shows me that there is joy waiting behind a door that I hadn't even realized existed. And it is in those moments that I feel truly blessed my her writing. Perhaps this and her other works are not perfect, in truth they are not. But in that moment when she has captured the pain in ones heart and soul, given it voice and a means to move forward who cares if it isn't the perfect novel? I guess those who haven't felt the coldness of a heart alone and bereft. For my part I say thank you Alice and keep writing, at least for me!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning creation October 16, 1998
By A Customer
I knew Alice Walker's name, but had never read her, and thus it was on a whim that I plucked this book from the library shelf.
By the Light of My Father's Smile is easily the best reading I have ever enjoyed. Walker's words are beautiful, grotesque, gentle, raw, passionate,honest. Her lovemaking scenes are intensely physical and emotional; metaphors about life itself and not the characters individually, and deliciously loving. It was refreshing to see a male point of view from a female writer, a male point of view on sexuality, a deceased male point of view on his daughter's intimate lives and his impact therein.
I read this book with no preconceived notions about Walker's writing style, no idea what the context of the book would hold, no expectations of character development, description, or prose--and I'll repeat, this is the best book that I have ever enjoyed. I have returned it to the library, but plan to purchase it to add to my small collection of books that make me feel so good I read them over and over.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Captivating! August 16, 2000
By The Light of My Father's Smile explores the past, present, and future connection of the female characters in the novel to their father. Walker uses a multi-voiced approach in revealing the complexities of relationships both parental and romantic. The characters' speak from both life and deaths experiences revealing to the reader that issues not resolved in life must certainly be reconciled in death. Walker delivers insight and wisdom through the use of folklore, and the spiritual philosophy of an ancient Mexican/African tribe. She is able to demonstrate with clarity how male oppression of women, specifically a father's oppression of his daughter, effects a woman emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. A definite must read for the masses.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book well move you February 1, 2006
I love Alice Walker. She is an exceptional writer. "By the Light of My Father's Smile" is as easy to read as "The Color Purple" and as inspirational as The "Temple of My Familiar." Her ideas about the spirituality of sexuality are so beautiful.

"By the Light of My Father's Smile" gathers up so much of women's history and experience, all previously ignored or misrepresented and takes this history/experience as an important given, uses it to explain our human quest to seek sexual and spiritual fulfillment, to know ourselves. Speaking so honestly about female sexual hurt, female sexual maiming, female sexual shaming within the family, within the father/daughter relationship and imagining a way to heal this experience was powerfully brave of Walker. I felt like I was is a long darkened and forbidden room now amazingly and lovingly explored, revealed. I felt such relief to read this attempt at restoring female sexuality to an altar of acceptance, respect, love, social esteem. It seemed almost possible to live in a society, a family that really could anticipate female sexuality with joy, freedom and respect on an equal footing with male sexual importance. But my awe and gratitude for the subject and Walker's attempt is still tempered by my real sense, in the reading of it, that it was not entirely successful. I'm not sure why. Some of the sexual imagery, the dominating type sexual play in some scenes seemed artificial, unreal. If it were real, it wouldn't be so undisturbing to the participants, it would raise issues, and it would be unsettling, not just accepted as part of their sexual bliss identity.

But over all, the story reads like a fable, a fairy tale, really and that is fine with me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A captivating book with many layers September 18, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have read this book several times. The events are startling, the characters are fascinating and unexpected. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, which creates the effect of a flower opening for the reader. The themes of the book are universal: cultural differences, father-daughter relationships, sisters, death, afterlife, sexuality. It's all there! This is not a book for the uptight! For the open-minded only!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Open Minded Enough, But Not My Thing
Some authors write for everybody. Some authors write for women and some authors write for men. Ms. Walker clearly writes for women. Read more
Published 7 months ago by XPOW
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Piece Of Writing!
One of the best of Alice. Deep, Emotional, Passionate, And Written Like You Were Goin Through It With Her. Buy The Rest Of Her Books If You Haven't Already. They're weepers.. Read more
Published 10 months ago by SebastianLenington
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!!!
Thank you Ms. Walker for this novel. It is very moving as well as very thought provoking. I loved it!
Published 12 months ago by Sunshine
5.0 out of 5 stars By the Light of My Father's Smile is a masterpiece
Alice Walker is an exquisite writer, and once again, she invites the reader to peer into the intimate journey of complicated love within a family, while they all untangle thoughts,... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Erik Rosengren
5.0 out of 5 stars About love. Wonderful read
Highly recommend this! Have passed onto many friends. Through an intriguing story, it interweaves the love of fathers on daughters with how daughters grow and love.
Published 15 months ago by Marybeth I. Thoren
5.0 out of 5 stars very pleased
This book arrived within two days and it is in great shape. Exactly what I was looking for when I purchased this book.
Published 20 months ago by Amber LaSource
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Read
While, I know the name Alice Walker, I believe I have only read the Color Purple, and that was so long ago, I'm not even sure if I finished it. I read this one in one day! Read more
Published 22 months ago by Jacque Cartwright
1.0 out of 5 stars just dreadful
This book is so awful that it would not have been published if the author wasn't Alice Walker. So much drival and meaningless reflection.
Published on November 27, 2012 by L. Brewer
3.0 out of 5 stars By the light of my father's smile
I was reccomended this book by a friend and had great expectations. However it did not live up to my expectations. Read more
Published on March 15, 2012 by Lune
3.0 out of 5 stars curiously voyeuristic
I had a difficult time putting this book down. However, I'm not sure if it was well written or if I was curious to see what happened next-much like reading a tabloid. Read more
Published on June 4, 2005 by reading it all
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More About the Author

Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States' preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other books include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.

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