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Possessing the Secret of Joy Mass Market Paperback – June 1, 1993

4.2 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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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 strident and polemical novel, a 17-week PW bestseller, which focuses on the practice of female circumcision in African cultures.
Copyright 1993 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket; Reissue edition (June 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671789422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671789428
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.5 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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