Jason's Reviews > Possessing the Secret of Joy

Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: lit-mod

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 unbelievably barbaric and abjectly misogynistic practice in a series of alternating monologues by several characters, all centering on the vengeful actions of Tashi Evelyn Johnston, a victim of ritual 'bathing' of the genitals (one must cut away that which is unclean!).
Coming to this novel I expected an 'Oprah Winfrey Presents' or 'Lifetime Movie' melodrama that over-sentimentalized woeman's suffering and hid all extreme acts so as not to offend middle America. How wrong I was, gladly.
Stylistically, this novel is like Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING; and it is as powerful in its explorations of loss, madness and family dynamics.
There are wonderful images & ideas presented: termite as Christ; a logical explanation for a virgin birth; a chicken that has a bizarre culinary preference; God's destruction of termite mounds as excuse for FGM; a little girl's tears tracking through the red dust on her cheeks as a portentous river of blood; a rare hemophiliac young girl.
This is not a book you enjoy. Instead you learn from it, feel pain and sorrow and outrage during reading it, and you come away viewing the human-made world differently (such as how the animal world suffers for our vaccines).
On a personal note: A few years ago I went on a date with a young woman who spoke of herself and her friends as being new 'revolutionaries' during the Bush years. At the end of the date she said to me, "At some point in life everyone should possess the secret of joy." I never spoke to nor saw her again after that one date and had wondered what she had meant... until now. I now know what the secret of joy is. I don't possess it. However, I also know that the Borg think it is futile...
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Reading Progress

July 18, 2011 – Started Reading
July 18, 2011 – Shelved
July 20, 2011 –
0.0% "A few years back I dated a young woman who, upon ending the date, stated, "At some point in life everyone should possess the secret of joy." I was befuddled by that statement (and still am) and unfortunately did not have a second date on which to ask her to explain. But now I am listening to Alice Walker & Joe Morton narrate Ms. Walker's novel. The secret of Joy still eludes me (I am on tape 2)."
July 29, 2011 – Shelved as: lit-mod
July 29, 2011 – Finished Reading

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