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Possessing the Secret of Joy Hardcover – June 30, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0151731527 ISBN-10: 0151731527 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 1st edition (June 30, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151731527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151731527
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

This book is eye opening, touching and well written.
Joseph Strawser
This book exemplifies Alice Walker's incredible ability to shed light on horrific practices in the context of beautiful and captivating stories.
J. L. Mills
I read this book almost six years ago, and I still can remeber the feeling I got when I first picked it up.
CMKJWD@prodigy.com

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Bridget Cecil on November 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Possessing the Secret of Joy, by Alice Walker, reveals a cultural tradition that is considered taboo by its society; it is left unspoken of, yet it is condoned. To someone of a different culture, this tradition is not only unacceptable but completely appalling. It is a tradition that brutally abuses and destroys its victims, the women of the society. Alice Walker presents us, specifically, with two of these women, Tashi and M'Lissa, of Olinka. Tashi can easily be seen as a victim of this cruel tradition, but M'Lissa initially appears to be the enemy, a traitor who continues to force this "initiation" upon the girls of Olinka. However, M'Lissa's character can be seen to change toward the end of the novel as her own story is revealed, and we can ultimately view M'Lissa, not as the enemy, but as a victim also. While, on the surface, M'Lissa and Tashi can be seen as two entirely different women with different motives and ideals, they actually are a great deal alike. Not only are they both women of this Olinkan society, they are both women who have lost themselves to this Olinkan society. While their ways of coping contrast, they both must live the rest of their lives in an attempt to deal with the harsh consequences of the painful and degrading tradition of female circumcision. At the beginning of the novel, the idea that Tashi could murder M'Lissa seems very appealing. Tashi lives her entire life in grief and agony because of what this woman has done to her. It seems completely justifiable for Tashi to take revenge on M'Lissa. Tashi considers herself to be dead throughout her entire life simply because she has been so completely torn from herself as a result of this massacre of her womanhood.Read more ›
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Daniel V. Reilly VINE VOICE on February 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Possessing The Secret of Joy is a semi-sequel to The Color Purple, but you can jump right into "Possessing" without ever having read "Purple".
Here, Alice Walker tells the story of Tashi, a minor character from The Color Purple. Transplanted from her native Africa, she is tormented by supressed memories from her childhood; memories that are starting to wear away her already tenuous sanity.
Tashi is not only plagued by memories of the death of her sister, she is also suffering psychologically from the circumcision she subjected herself to before her departure from Africa. She undergoes some extensive therapy, conducted in part by Jung himself, to try to heal her mental scars.
I was familiar with the concept of ritual female circumcision from various newspaper articles and news programs, but I had no idea of the extent of the mutilation these young girls are subjected to. Walker handles the subject well; she describes the procedure, and the effect, both physical and mental, on the girl, all the while taking great care to present every side of the story. Her presentation of the history of this procedure is gripping, as are her theories about how it may have started. While much of the book is relentlessly grim, it is, nonetheless, a fabulously rewarding read.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 27, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I am sixteen years old and I read an interview with Tori Amos (my favorite artist) who said that her song "Cornflake Girl" was inspired by the book "Possessing the Secret of Joy," so I picked up the book and read it. While I initially began reading it to look for lines that Tori might have used in the song, my focus soon turned to the story of Tashi, Andy, Olivia, M'Lissa, and the other characters in the book. The practice done to Tashi was hideous and I think it's good that Alice Walker is bringing the barbaric practice of mutilation to the public and trying to stop it. I let my best friend borrow this book for her school report on how badly females are treated in today's society, which is supposed to be equal, and she used "Possessing the Secret of Joy" as an example. Alice Walker helped me realize how we as women need to stand up for ourselves and speak out against anything we find wrong, whatever it may be, and Tashi's strength is prevalent throughout this excellent novel.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By C. Baker VINE VOICE on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Alice Walker states that the secret of joy is "RESISTANCE", which sums up the book nicely. But there is more to this single word. Resistance to what? Resistance to injustice, in this case specifically the injustice of genital mutilation...but Walker clearly means for this resistance to include other forms of injustice. Such as, you ask? Racism, sexism, bigotry in any form.
Walker's books, including this one, convey the psychological damage of perpetual abuse of a person throughout not only their own life but the life of their ancestors. Therefore, racism and sexism heap psychological damage on their victims for enerations--not to mention the clear sociological problems that germinate from them.
Why does "resistance" bring joy? First, if the injustice is eventually defeated it will bring a new found freedom and autonomy. If nothing else, resistance provides the resister with a moral victory over his or her opponents, which in the end, brings our ill-fated protagonist joy.
The more specific sexual aspect of the book is also embraced by this concept. Resistance to the injustice of genital mutilation, on both the individual and collective level, brings sexual pleasure to the individual and to generations of individuals yet to come. So sexual pleasure also is part of the "secret of joy", only in this case it is a specific instance of what "resistance" can eventually accomplish.
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