Possessing the Secret of Joy

by Alice Walker

Hardcover, 1992

Call number




Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1992), Edition: 1st, 286 pages


Fiction. African American Fiction. HTML:An American woman struggles with the genital mutilation she endured as a child in Africa in a New York Times bestseller "as compelling as The Color Purple" (San Francisco Chronicle). In Tashi's tribe, the Olinka, young girls undergo female genital mutilation as an initiation into the community. Tashi manages to avoid this fate at first, but when pressed by tribal leaders, she submits. Years later, married and living in America as Evelyn Johnson, Tashi's inner pain emerges. As she questions why such a terrifying, disfiguring sacrifice was required, she sorts through the many levels of subjugation with which she's been burdened over the years. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker exposes the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation in an unforgettable, moving novel. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Alice Walker including rare photos from the author's personal collection. Possessing the Secret of Joy is the 3rd book in the Color Purple Collection, which also includes The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Walker should have written a short story or a factual article instead of this so-called novel. It is heavy on rhetoric and repetition with very little story or character to back any of it up. Overall, already knowing of the basic subject and having already read the same themes in Walker's work
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repeatedly, I found it a waste of time, and finished it only because it was expected of me for a class. It isn't time-consuming at all, but it also isn't worth the time you'll have to spend to read it, little as that is.
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
Book on an African woman and her circumcision as a child and how it affected the rest of her life.
LibraryThing member kjharrison
This book blew me away like no other. The topic of genital mutilation would be a difficult topic for most authors, but Walker takes it head on and treats all sides of the topic with respect. Where most authors would be judgmental, Walker is understanding and honest. She understands the human
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condition like no other. Possessing the Secret of Joy is simply fantastic. It is a must read.
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LibraryThing member karima29
This book is one of the many Alive Walker novels that I have been deeply moved by. Once again, it's a novel that sheds light on what it means to be a woman, how the stereotypes associated with our sexuality shape us, where they come from, and how our methods of dealing with it define us.

It talks
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about the kind of relationships we have when we own our sexuality. It talks about how we pass these things on to our children, wittingly and unwittingly. It talks about the indoctrination of entire communities and cultures, and the battles we face when we want to break free of that whilst still wanting to be accepted and loved by society. Whether this is in fact even possible.

At once both painful and powerful, this book is gripping. It's a book I want to gift every female in my life with. And it raises issues I want to school every male in my life about.
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LibraryThing member amandrake
This book will always make me cry, both from a feeling of loss and the burning of fierce hope. She put words to what I knew.
LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Tough to take in the information but an important read.
LibraryThing member Virtual_Jo
A profoundly shocking yet somehow uplifting tale of one woman's quest for understanding. Tashi is an independent African woman married to a Black American. She relates how she underwent the tribal ritual of female circumcision and how this has traumatised her and affected her relationship. It
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sounds horrific and it is, yet in her journey, Tashi realises just how powerful she is as a woman, and despite what was done to her, she finally discovers the secret of joy in an ending that is tragic yet empowering. I'm so glad I read this - it really is a life changer.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
This book should be required reading for everywoman. It had a profound impact on my life and how I view the issue of gential mutilation.
LibraryThing member BookAddict
This book was a quick read. I knew everything mentioned in the book about female circumcision but it was interesting to read the information in a fictional context. This book makes you think about the possible reasons behind female circumcision and how the great power of women's sexuality may
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threaten men. It was surprisingly interesting.
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LibraryThing member heidijane
This novel focusses on the story of Tashi, a minor character in The Colour Purple, who left Africa for a new life in America, and explores the tragic consequences of the female initiation ceremony.This book is written from a number of different points of view, and it switches very quickly, within a
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few pages. At first, this makes the book very confusing, as it is difficult to see how the different characters relate to each oterh, but gradually this book settles down. The story is well thought-out, and the characters are very vivid, but yet I was still left feeling a bit disappointed. Not sure why - maybe I just expected more than this book was able to give, but unfortunately, despite the sometimes harrowing scenes, I was left feeling that a lot of it was only skimming the surface. For me, it didn't go as deep as it potentially could have done I suppose...
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LibraryThing member heidilove
If any single fiction book could get people to discuss the reality of femal circumcision at home and abroad, this is it.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
Story of Tashi. Tashi is an African woman who tries to follow the traditions of her native people but suffers physical and emotional trauma.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
African American literature. Alice Walker, author of the The Color Purple writes about Tashi, a woman briefly mentioned in The Color Purple. Tashi is from Africa and Adam, her husband, is the son of a missionary. It is a story of misogyny. Tashi follows the tradition of her people and then sinks
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into a world of depression. She fights back and is saved by the grace of herself.
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LibraryThing member Lisa.Johnson.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
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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 Dura. It drove Tashi insane, & once she & Adam returned to America, she was in & out of Waverly Asylum. On her return to Africa, she searches out M'Lissa, the "tsunga", or female witch doctor, who was also the tribe midwife & delivered Tashi when she was a newborn. When M'Lissa is found dead, Tashi goes on trial for it. The story is sad, and gives graphic details on what is done to these poor girls over there, & how. It also touches on an interesting theory of how AIDS came to be the epidemic it is in Africa, which is the introduction of a contaminated batch of smallpox vaccine, since Adam is a doctor.

All in all, a powerful, haunting story
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LibraryThing member krazy4katz
Alice Walker is such a beautiful writer. This book begins with Adam and Olivia, children of black missionaries, meeting Tashi, an African child in an African area called Olinka, which holds very traditional values. What "traditional" means in this case is that female genital mutilation is
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considered mandatory for girls who hope to marry a good man and have a respectable place in Olinkan society. The book details the lives of these 3 people as they grow to adulthood and struggle with Tashi's trauma from her upbringing. Her life, her personal choices, made on a background of trauma and pain, lead us to a place of deep insight regarding the treatment of women, the violence of colonialism and the lack of healing of the supposedly free society. There is violence here but also intense sweetness and love. Alice Walker has been a strong advocate of women's rights and education to end the practice of FGM. I have such admiration for her and her incredible writing. The aching desire to end suffering comes through so clearly and so beautifully.
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LibraryThing member engpunk77
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.
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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 world today as I've been sidetracked with issues of little relevance to anyone...

I had a professor that claims she was a princess of Yoruba. She opened the discussion of female circumcision, cringing every time it was called "genital mutilation" by us naive westerners. She defended the practice, told us we didn't understand the culture, tried to make us feel ignorant. I continued to stress the word "mutilation" in my comments anyway. I wondered for just a minute if I were really just a stupid judgmental American (probably) that had no valid concern for the women in Africa and elsewhere who endure this brutality--after all, this was an actual African princess with whom I was arguing. But then I remembered that I'm equally horrified by bullfighting and accept no vindication for the "sport" in the name of "cultural difference." So my opinion has remained firm.

I wonder what this professor would think about this novel? She wanted to silence our discussion on the topic by shaming us. She also maintained that there was no sexism in Africa until it was introduced by the white colonialists. These ideas so conflict with this story that I desperately want to have a discussion with people who really know. Has Alice Walker been to Africa? Is she misinformed or has she done her research? Can one African tribe be so drastically different from another but still practice this same "initiation" ceremony? Anyway, these are the questions I have since finishing this novel last night. I'll be delving into some nonfiction right away.

Overall, this is a beautiful and poetic treatment of a vile subject. Makes you wince and cower, covering your wide open eyes. One of the ways in which I was personally touched after reading this was that I feel like I need to just love being me and resist the things that might interfere with that possibility.

Update 2008: I still remember this story every time I visit my friend's farm. The chickens! Oh, the horrors!
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LibraryThing member amerynth
While "Possessing the Secret of Joy" certainly isn't Alice Walker's strongest work, it's still an solid one and focused on the incredibly important topic of female genital mutilation.

Tashi's story, of a lifetime of suffering due to what happened to her body and rift between her cultural beliefs
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and the pain she endured, makes this a hard read, but one that is ultimately worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member briannad84
This was a fantastic book! I loved A Color Purple, but I liked this one even better! I'm currently reading two other books that coincidentally mention female circumcision. I liked how the author broke it into the viewpoints of the different characters. However I think I would have liked it better
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if she had used an actual Africn village instead of a fictional one.
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LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
"Religion is an elaborate excuse for what men has done to women and to the earth."

In this novel Alice Walker looks at the horrifying practice and consequences of female genital mutilation, according to the author's note at the end of book is believed to have been inflicted upon between ninety and
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one hundred million girls and women alive today. The practice varies from simple excision of the clitoris to a full-scale removal of the labia, thus denying the victim sexual pleasure,.

Tashi, the main protagonist of this novel, made a brief appearance in 'The Colour Purple' as an African woman living in America who returned to Africa to have the operation as a gesture of solidarity with the women of her village, 'Possessing the Secret of Joy' is her story.

I must admit that the book's fractured and non-chronological structure initially made it a little difficult for me to differentiate between the various voices, especially as many of them seem had differing names, an African and an American one. Equally as a European I struggled to comprehend why any female would feel the need to return to Africa to undergo such a barbaric experience just to somehow feel whole. However, once I had overcome these obstacles the story had me totally gripped if extremely uncomfortable.

This book raises some interesting questions because alongside genital mutilation it also touches on a possible origin for AIDS and the use of chimpanzees in medical experiments.

"There is for human beings no greater hell to fear than the one on earth."

Personally I felt that Walker spent a bit too much time sensationalising the actual operation that the plot suffered a little but I fully understand why she felt the need to do so. This is an important message that needs to be made especially when you realise that 'tradition' is being misused as a reason to justify it and it's often men who insist on it's continuance .

"Men refuse to remember things that don't happen to them."
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