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Possessing the Secret of Joy

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  13,758 ratings  ·  552 reviews
A provocative novel about an African tribal woman’s battle with madness after the trauma of a childhood genital mutilation.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 30th 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 1992)
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Cylia Kamp 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)

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4.07  · 
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 ·  13,758 ratings  ·  552 reviews

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Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, african-lit, feminism
"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

Those words, at the very end of an emotional molotov cocktail of a novel, are not for the main character alone, even though they offer her comfort at the moment of her death. Those words are meant for the reader of the multilayered, polyphonic hymn to the human spirit. Reading the statistics is hard enough: one will be shocked to know what happens to women in societies where genital mutilation for the sake of control - under the euphemistic expression of "tradi
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2019-reads
For I saw the healthy green leaves of my America falling seared to the ground. Her sparkling rivers muddy with blood.

There are many faces to the African diaspora, many consequences of survival after trauma, many layers of love. Yet how does a survivor find joy when she lives daily with the results of a strained past? These are some concepts explored beautifully in this novel through the character, Tashi, or Evelyn, or, as some chapters elude to her: Tashi-Evelyn/Evelyn-Tashi. To understand her
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
Debbie "DJ"
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
I appreciated Walker putting a human face on a culture that adopted the practice of “female genital mutilation.” But it bothers me some that she created a fictional culture, the Olinka tribe, to play out the drama of a people that has long adopted the practice. Trying for a universal or pan-Africa perspective I suppose, while avoiding painting a particular real culture to serious social commentary. The book kicks off a quote about Tashi from “The Color Purple”, who as a young immigrant in Americ ...more
Aug 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Opening line - 'I did not realise for a long time that I was dead.'
#PossessingTheSecretOfJoy * "My wife is hurt, I say. Wounded. Broken. Not mad. Evelyn laughs. Flinging her head back in deliberate challenge. The laugh is short. Sharp. The bark of a dog. Beyond hurt. Unquestionably mad. Oddly free." *

Driven by emotion rather than intellect Tashi (Evelyn) undergoes female circumcision in her teen years. Despite the subject matter, this is surprisingly easy to read yet raw at times. The procedure,
Oh, I say. These settler cannibals. Why don't they just steal our land, mine our gold, chop down our forests, pollute our rivers, enslave us to work on their farms, fuck us, devour our flesh and leave us alone? Why must they also write about how much joy we possess?
I can't wait to read something like this that was written in reaction to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. If I had to take a drink every time another treacle-tart infantalization brought upon by the complete refusal to both learn a new l
Aug 02, 2008 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).

The story of Tashi from The Color Purple, the African woman who undergoes female genital mutilation as a teenager, a traditional practice intended to control her sexuality, leaving her emotionally and physically scarred. It’s a pretty tough read, with scenes that sear themselves into your brain and, although it falls short of perfection, needs to be commended for tackling a sensitive topic not often addressed. The Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi, who underwent female genital mutilation as a you ...more
Jul 24, 2013 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
Jul 19, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book in 2015 because I liked Tashi's character in The Color Purple and wanted to read more about her. Unfortunately she's barely recognizable here, and the two books almost seem like they were written by different authors. For starters, the style is extremely different; The Color Purple has a fairly straightforward narrative structure, while Possessing the Secret of Joy is a fragmented jumble of viewpoints and chronology. And of course, the prevailing theme of Possessing the Sec ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started this book before years ago and couldn't finish. Finished because this was a bookclub section and I thought it jumped from too many POVs and time periods.
P. Kirby
There's no question that a practice that mutilates women with the goal of making them look like Barbie dolls--i.e., with a flat, featureless landscape instead of actual genitalia--is inhumane and nothing that should be condoned as "tradition." The problem, however, with Possessing the Secret Joy, a novel about Tashi, a woman who has suffered this brutal practice and continues to struggle with the physical and emotional scars for many decades after, is that the narrative structure is messy and la ...more
Jan 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Cylia Kamp
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 11, 2009 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
Dec 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2011 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.
Sika Sedzro
Mar 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Bonnie Thacker
Apr 26, 2015 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.
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.
Jay -hooked on books
Possessing the Secret of Joy is a powerful read, written in Alice Walker's usual evocative style. Tashi, who has appeared in the peripheries of Ms.Walker's other novels, takes the centre in this book.

Through Tashi, Ms.Walker not only creates a condemnation of FGM, but also leaves the reader with insights into how it plays into a victim's psyche and life. The entire book progresses through short first person narratives from all the major characters. While we learn of Tashi's life and how a misgui
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book Review
Book: Possessing the secret of joy
Author: Alice walker
Genre: Fiction, Feminism
“Resistance is the secret of joy.”
When I started this book I almost made my mind to keep it aside without finishing it. Thankfully, I did not do that because it turned out to be a mind-blowing book, a book that will literally blow your mind. It is a kind of book that will leave you numb, hollow and speechless for a long time. The author’s description of female genital mutilation is so disturbing that it will
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wow what a thoughtwrenching/ heart breaking story of Tashi. Although the tribe is fictional Walker uses this place as a combination of Africa. Female Circumcision is a horrible practice which still occurs physically in many parts of the world.
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sad, interesting read about Tashi, an African tribal woman. Her young sister dies from genital circumcision. Tashi is also circumcised by a tribal woman. Tashi’s circumcision affects her physically and mentally for the majority of her life. A thought provoking, well written novel.
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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
“If you lie to yourself about your own pain, you will be killed by those who will claim you enjoyed it.” 25 likes
“the God of woman is autonomy” 10 likes
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