Possessing the Secret of Joy
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Possessing the Secret of Joy

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  9,502 ratings  ·  368 reviews
"Possessing the Secret of Joy" is the story of Tashi, a tribal African woman who lives much of her adult life in North America. As a young woman, a misguided loyalty to the customs of her people led her to voluntarily submit to the tsunga's knife and be genitally mutilated (pharoanoically circumcised). Severely traumatized by this experience, she spends the rest of her lif...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 2nd 2005 by Washington Square Press (first published 1992)
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The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
74th out of 509 books — 588 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeePride and Prejudice by Jane AustenJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
women writers
69th out of 457 books — 120 voters

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"There was a boulder lodged in my throat. My heart surged pitifully. I knew what the boulder was; that it was a word; and that behind that word I would find my earliest emotions.”- Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy

Tashi, an African woman from the Olinkan tribe, marries Adam, an American man, and spends most of her life in America. Witnessing her sister, Dura, die from a botched female genital mutilation (FGM) surgery, as well as undergoing FGM herself, Tashi becomes traumatized and has...more
Julie Suzanne
Picked this book up for a dime on a bookshelf full of unappealing books outside of a library. I believe that I took it because I knew that Alice Walker is a reputable writer, but I didn't even read the back cover. It's been sitting on my shelf for a few years and I'd completely forgotten about it. I picked it up two nights ago and WOW...

The subject of genital mutilation has been dormant in conversations in my world lately, and I welcome the opportunity to be awakened to important concerns in the...more
Back in the early Nineties, there was a story in our local newspaper about female circumcision that was published because of the release of Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker. It was a practice I had never heard of before, and I was both horrified and fascinated. I read it as soon as I could. Now, after more than 15 years, I still remember how emotional this book was. (I don't know what possessed me to think of it today.) With Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker proves that fiction ca...more
This is my second reading of this book. The first was nearly 20 years ago and all I really recalled was thinking I should hold on to the book because I would read it again.

Since I am a very different person now that when I was in my early twenties - I experienced this book very differently. The first read was an introduction to genital mutilation, let alone it's different forms, the cultural significance, the consideration of the psychological ramifications for anyone involved - I was amazed and...more
i am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i have a prejudice against alice walker. she seems to me, for an accumulation of reasons none of which sits discreetly in my mind, identifiable, a sloppy writer. say this book. the story is powerful and powerfully told. but then there's a whole lot of anthropology thrown in, and some etymology, and some sort of grand historical theory of patriarchy a...more
This was the toughest book for me to finish. It was recommended to me by several friends whose judgment in books reflected mine, but I kept putting it off. The novel's subject, female genital mutilation, cannot be sugar-coated, nor should it be. Alice Walker does a unbelievable job of kicking your apathetic butt into gear. You will be angry, unbelievably angry. Angry enough to figure out what you can do to stop this, frustrated that the practice is still going on and tolerated by societies wholl...more
I read this book close to its first publication date. I will reveal my total ignorance here--I did not realize that the subject of this book was 'real', as in actually happening, until I was more than halfway thru the book. That realization was quite a shock! In my defense, probably 98 percent of the US population at the time had never heard of female circumcision (as it was then called).

In light of that, perhaps one star of my rating might be attributed to the torrent of emotion released within...more
Such a moving novel that centers around Tashi (from The Color Purple and the horrific custom of female genital mutilation. Possessing the Secret of Joy is, as far as I know, is the first novel to illustrate the beliefs, effects, practices, and horrors behind FGM. Tashi represents the "every woman" who takes a stand for women's rights, but only after she chooses to undergo circumcision as a young woman. The book is broken into many short chapters, each one narrated by a different character in the...more
Jul 11, 2009 Meen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meen by: I LOVE Alice Walker.
Oh my heart, my heart, my feminist heart. There are very few authors who affect me as deeply as Alice Walker does.

And FGM infuriates me more than any other misogynistic cultural practice. I'm most assuredly not a cultural relativist. If a culture (including religions) perpetuates the subordination of females, it is simply abominable. Males must develop ways of germinating (*haha*) self-worth beyond the ones that base status on one's ability to possess and dominate females (and other males).

The book details the life of an African girl, Tashi, from her youth through marriage - she meets the son and a daughter of missionaries and becomes friends with them - although still seeking acceptance from her village. The author, Alice Walker, gives us a unique perspective for each of the characters in each chapter. We see the wonderful youthful girl enjoying a crush and feeling the splendor of sex in the grass - yet - we learn that women in that village practice genital circumcision on every...more
I appreciated The Color Purple for what it was. This book follows a similiar writing style from what I remember of TCP. I'm a little unclear of the actual time period, but I am thinking it's in the 1960's. It's following a missionary family in Africa and the relationships that results. It does jump around in time a little though. Warning--this book does address squeamish issues like female circumcision.

So when I had about 50 pages to finish this book I really really really wanted to give it bac...more
Jan 31, 2012 Therese rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in women's studies, etc.
Recommended to Therese by: Nicki
I will finish this tonight, and I'm so glad you recommended it to me Nicki, not to mention I got a great deal on it cyber Monday -- $2.99. I wanted to give it a 4.5 rating, but they don't have that. I was a bit confused because it jumped from one time to another, not to mention there was so much that wasn't told/shared. Still this should be mandatory reading for people of some age. I don't know what would be appropriate, but it amazes me that this is still going on, not to mention going on right...more
In her introduction to this book, or perhaps in her afterword, Alice Walker says something like: human cruelty and human compassion are equally balanced and it is us to each one of us to do what we can to tip that balance in the right direction. I think that is a good way to live life.

This book is about genital mutation, through the fictional story of one woman's experience. I found it as others have said, a difficult read. This book I put down knowing that I would not read it again, but that I...more
OMG,the whole time I read this book my mouth was wide open. It was the only thing that I could talk about, so much so that my friends started reading the book. I remember feeling so very angry. At one point I had to call my mother long distance for a NFW conversation. This book really opened my eyes to what I call Alice Walker's angst and her need to inform us of true life cruelties that happen to women in a fictional way. I've only read two books by her and I wonder if she has ever written a "h...more
Isn't it amazing how a simple book can introduce you to whole different part of the world and what lies within it? I picked up this book because I loved The Color Purple and I had also read You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down. But it was because the former was mentioned that I wanted to read more about Tashi, the African girl who was briefly mentioned. I soon realised this book was not an extension or sequel to The Color Purple; it was its own story altogether. And one that I had never encountered...more
After reading this book, oppression is what we taught to our children. The tales, the traditions, the religion, the need to conquest etc. I don't believe in feminism, but I believe in myself to make the right decisions for myself -- only for myself in that given time. No religious group, societal group, feminism group can tell you who you need to be; or what you should be doing. As an individual you need to decide; we all need to decide, and respect each others for the decisions we've made for O...more
Alice Walker's two-dimensional assessment of female genital circumcision has earned her the ire of many African scholars who, while dedicated to ending FGC, are appalled by the fact that this is the only representation of this issue, and of Africa, that a lot of Americans see. Add to that the fact that any fan of "The Color Purple," a truly awesome and staggering novel, will be angered and hurt to see (Spoiler!) Adam's appalling conduct and Tashi's tragic end, and you see why "Possessing the Sec...more
Lisa James
This book was written in the same style as The Color Purple, with each section being written by a different character. I enjoyed that aspect, because it gives each one a voice of their own, & a unique perspective on the events in the book. This book centers on Tashi, also called Evelyn, who married Adam, & was briefly seen in The Color Purple. It centers around the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, or, female circumcision, which Tashi had done, & which killed her sister...more
I just finished this book, and though I'm still numb from the truthfulness and reality of what this story addresses, I felt compelled to write something right away.

This story picks up on the lives of some of the characters from The Color Purple. Alice Walker says it is not meant to be a sequel, and therefore she felt that she could change the lives of Tashi, Adam, and Olivia slightly from what we were introduced to in The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar. Though, I didn't really notic...more
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Donni Hakanson
This is the second time I have journied through the pages of this riveting book, picking up new nuances and concepts along the way. This book is one of my all time favourites because it hits an emotional chord and attachment to the charcaters and their inherant obstacles develops through each page to well after the book is finished and one is left musing the strangeness of certain customs and how mutilation can become culturally acceptable until individuals questions it. "Resistance is the secre...more
Related to Color Purple. Focus on Tashi/ Evelyn. She has a 'circumcision / mutilation' as a young woman to follow traditional believes. Becomes maimed and haunted. Impact has ripple affect to many lives.

Overall horror of female genital mutilation.


That her soul had been dealt a mortal blow was plain to anyone who dared look into her eyes.

They do not want to hear what their children suffer. They've made the telling of the suffering itself taboo. If every man in this courtroom had his pen...more
Emlyn Chand
Preview… Rarely would I recommend a book that I consider so lacking in entertainment value. However, Alice Walker’s “Possessing the Secret of Joy” is worth reading for its many layers of meaning. This is a quick read that, while a bit erratic and hard-to-follow at times, hits the reader with deep emotions at its pivotal plot points.

Tashi moves from her native Olinka (a fictitious nation in Africa) to the western United States, adopting the new name ‘Evelyn’ along the way. This character was firs...more
A quite wonderful book about a grisly and difficult subject: female genital mutilation. Walker attempts to be quite evenhanded and succeeds admirably, considering how horrific she most likely finds this practice. Because it has spiritual as well as social significance in many cultures (mostly in Africa), she does attempt to present that side of things. However, it becomes quite clear that the subjugation of women and the supremacy of men is the primary motive behind the practice, and that no spi...more
Britney Bulah
Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker follows the story of Tashi, a tribal African American who struggles with her undergoing for genital mutilation. A member of the Olinkan tribe who did not undergo the tribal ritual at the right time, unlike her sister who bled to death. Instead Tashi chooses to carry out the practice of Female Genital Mutilation when she is more grown up, as a recognition she fits in to the women of her tribe. Now living in the United States with her husband Adam she c...more
Hubo un tiempo en que los libros me parecían escritos sólo para mí. Los encontraba, o me encontraban ellos a mí, en los estantes más bajos de mi casa, de la biblioteca o de las librerías. Los cogía en base a la estética del objeto y no tenía ningún remordimiento en dejarlos a medias. Me parecían escritos sólo para mí porque ninguna de mis amigas del colegio había siquiera oído hablar de ellos, ni yo de los suyos. A veces nos los prestábamos, cuando había alguno que tuviese cosas algo "fuertes"....more
Madeleine McDonald
I have mixed feelings about this book. The Color Purple was an engrossing and uplifting read. This one is depressing. The story seems to have been invented as a platform to highlight the custom of female genital mutilation. Olinka is a fictitious African country, leaving the author free to invent a mythology to explain the custom.

As a teenager, Tashi rejects her missionary education and chooses to be cut as part of reclaiming her African identity. The result is a lifetime of physical pain for he...more
I read this book straight through while sitting at the airport waiting for my husband to come in on a red-eye flight. Another reader put it perfectly, (I'm paraphrasing at best,) that this is a quick but definitely NOT easy read.
This book certainly has some jaw-dropping moments. The subject matter of female genital mutilation is tougher than a reader can really anticipate. Walker makes very effective use of few words to describe the pain and horror that the Olinka women/girls undergo, making the...more
May 22, 2007 Agnes rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in gender issues and colonialism
I have not yet read "The Color Purple," or any other Alice Walker novels, but I will do so now because this book was fantastic. It tells the story of a minor character who appears in "The Color Purple," Tashi, an African woman whose story deals with colonialism, misogyny, female genital mutilation and identity. The novel is told in slices mixed in time and told by about five main characters, though the main voice belongs to Tashi and her various identities as she travels from her childhood in Af...more
Like the modern German who, wanting to rise above the past and enter a new age of normalcy, must open the wounds of the Holocaust and come to terms with its legacy and its indelible mark of Cain, Alice Walker opens a tremendous, but previously hidden wound for African-Americans (and humans in general) who look to Africa for self-evaluation and identity (for we are all 'Africans' in the evolutionary sense): female genital mutilation. Ms. Walker shines a blistering halogen light on this unbelievab...more
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500 Great Books B...: Possessing the Secret of Joy - Alice Walker 1 2 Jul 14, 2014 10:01PM  
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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, an...more
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The Color Purple The Temple Of My Familiar In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose Meridian By The Light Of My Father's Smile

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“If you lie to yourself about your own pain, you will be killed by those who will claim you enjoyed it.” 8 likes
“I have the uncanny feeling that, just at the end of my life, I am beginning to reinhabit completely the body I long ago left.” 3 likes
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