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Possessing the Secret of Joy

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,490 Ratings  ·  428 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 life ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 2nd 2005 by Washington Square Press (first published 1992)
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Celeste Rousselot This response is probably way too late, but I just noticed the question today when I was moving some of my reviews to my personal computer. Anyway the…moreThis response is probably way too late, but I just noticed the question today when I was moving some of my reviews to my personal computer. Anyway the explanation of the translation of "mbele ache" can be found on page 271. Also Alice Walker signs the author's note with "mbele ache" on page 283.

Sincerely, Celeste(less)
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
70th out of 604 books — 768 voters
Beloved by Toni MorrisonThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Darkest Child by Delores PhillipsSugar by Bernice L. McFaddenHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Contemporary Black Women's Literature
11th out of 222 books — 111 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rowena
Sep 05, 2014 Rowena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, feminism, african-lit
"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
Debbie "DJ"
Mar 08, 2015 Debbie "DJ" rated it it was amazing
Read years ago, but still remember this powerful read. Walkers description of female genital mutilation is so disturbing, it is indelibly imprinted in my mind.
jo
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
Sandi
Aug 27, 2009 Sandi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Pam
May 05, 2008 Pam rated it really liked it
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
Mike Jensen
Sep 06, 2014 Mike Jensen rated it it was ok
Back when THE COLOR PURPLE was all the rage, I read an interview with Alice Walker but had not read any of her books. Her arrogance so put me off that I did not give her a chance until now. I wish that I had waited even longer.

One problem is that the subject is disturbing: female circumcision, though I call it mutilation. Walker's in-your-face approach made this story very hard to take (putting it this way was calculated, but also fair). Of course, it is a horrible practice that treats women as
...more
Christine
Feb 18, 2010 Christine rated it did not like it
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
Aleeda
Aug 11, 2011 Aleeda rated it really liked it
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
Romy
the writing wasn't that bad but the pov changed a lot so that was really confusing.

I don't like books about slaves so that's one of the big reasons i don't like it.
Irene
Jul 24, 2013 Irene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Karine
Aug 03, 2011 Karine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very disjointed, character-driven story telling in which the plot itself is a mystery that is slowly revealed by numerous, inter-related characters at various points in time. When the puzzle finally comes together, it still feels like pieces are missing. Connections between female circumcision in Africa, sexism, political oppression, and AIDS are powerfully argued, but the motivation behind characters' actions are often obscure.
Martha
Dec 21, 2014 Martha rated it it was amazing
I have never written a review before but after reading this I feel like I can't not say anything. This book made me feel so much and so intensely, I know the story is a work of fiction but the events and the horror that happens in the book is so terribly factual that it made me feel sick whilst reading it.
It is a fast read in terms of content, however I could not sit for hours at a time because it took energy from me; I found myself taking regular breaks to reflect and, if I'm honest, cry.
The t
...more
Sika Sedzro
May 27, 2011 Sika Sedzro rated it did not like it
I was deeply disappointed in Alice Walker when she wrote this book. Her motives, I think, were genuine but her method was problematic for me. Her commentary on a very complicated issue is very limited, not to mention, biased. It's another post-modern tragedy. A third-wave feminist critique gone wrong. I love you Alice, I just don't agree with how you went about this one...
Ruth
Mar 15, 2015 Ruth rated it liked it
Hmmm. I don't recommend this book...especially not to the faint of hear. Although I read it in less than 24 hours, I can't say that it's a book I enjoyed. Leveraging characters from her previous novels, Walker tells the story of Tashi, an African woman of the Olinka tribe who subjects herself to her' culture's practice of clitorectomy and infibulation...and the resulting madness she experiences.

Walker uses a multiple-narrative style to develop the tale, and I'm not sure how much it added to the
...more
Farhana Faruq
Jan 04, 2015 Farhana Faruq rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
After reading The Color Purple and now this, I am thoroughly convinced Walker does NOT know how to tell a good story. She has all the information (not accurate - besides the point) but can't put it on paper.

I really wanted to like this book, but they are SO many reasons why I didn't. Apart from the disturbing topic (female circumcision) which had the potential to be a good story, but instead read like a biology book! Walkers manner in dealing with such a complex subject was just horrendous!!

A si
...more
Lillian
Sep 01, 2014 Lillian rated it really liked it
I don't even know how to begin reviewing this book?

Well, I picked up this book because currently I'm doing a research paper on female circumcision (or genital mutilation, however you choose to see it). and while fictitious, the reality of the issue as put forward by our protagonist's Evelyn/Tashi struggles is painfully real.

The book poses many questions about how to put yourself back together after having being initiated you are broken apart, pieces of you forever leaving you, why the practice c
...more
Celeste Rousselot
In 1991 Alice Walker first published the novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy. It introduced many readers to the ruthless, painful technique known as female genital mutilation (FMG) or female circumcision, suffered by 90 to 100 million women worldwide. Because the subject had long been taboo among those groups who practice it as well as throughout the rest of the world, the book was taken out of print. But fortunately for modern readers and current sufferers everywhere, Ms. Walker and others bega ...more
Tiffany
Dec 17, 2009 Tiffany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Meen
Jul 11, 2009 Meen rated it it was amazing  ·  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).

Alice
...more
Tulara
Jan 04, 2008 Tulara rated it it was amazing
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
Bonnie Thacker
Apr 30, 2015 Bonnie Thacker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must read more books by this woman.

And every conscientious person that is concerned about cruelty to women should be aware of the issues written about in this book.
Therese
Jan 31, 2012 Therese rated it really liked it  ·  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
Lyn
Sep 24, 2015 Lyn rated it really liked it
Powerful topic and really well written
Manda
Aug 20, 2011 Manda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robin
Dec 19, 2013 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sueij
Apr 12, 2015 Sueij rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. The way that this story jumped around both between people and in time (and with Tashi/Evelyn's changing name, though once I figured that out I liked it) sometimes threw me. BUT, having said that, the content of the story was deep. Tashi's journey was intense, and Adam's love and commitment to her tugged at my heart.

Was Tashi the most sane person in the story, fully possessing all her senses, or was she out of touch with reality? If what had happened to her happened to anyone else, how
...more
Susan Hirtz
Oct 15, 2014 Susan Hirtz rated it it was amazing
Alice Walker's beautiful sparse and significant prose draws the reader into this tale of several generations of African women whose lives intersect.

This intuitive tale of their inner lives and voices, rising from an outer world of pain, gives us a universal picture of what their suffering means. It is used as a literature text now in many college courses due to its treatment of archetypes, some of whom may be intimidating to those unfamiliar with Walker's books.

Alice dedicated this book to the B
...more
Kavita Ramesh
Oct 11, 2015 Kavita Ramesh rated it it was ok
Though the horrible practice of female circumcision needs to be talked about, this novel bored me by its length and the endless circling around the protagonist's pain and depression. It was too inward looking. It is a harrowing topic, and it should have been more presented in a more impactful fashion.

However, having said that, the details of what these women have to suffer through just so they can act as vessels for men's selfish pleasure made my skin crawl.
Katherine Ripley
Oct 11, 2015 Katherine Ripley rated it it was amazing
Trigger warning: female genital mutilation.

Had I known before I started this book that it was about FGM, I might not have read it. It was very difficult for me to get through. Several times I became physically ill while reading it.

But I'm glad I got through it. It's an incredibly powerful story that forced me to confront an issue I would usually shy away from because I didn't have a strong enough stomach to deal with it. I put FGM in the category of "things that happen in other places which I do
...more
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Alice Walker, 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 Possessi ...more
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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.” 15 likes
“the God of woman is autonomy” 7 likes
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