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By the Light of My Father's Smile: A…
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By the Light of My Father's Smile: A Novel (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Alice Walker

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499720,441 (3.69)8
Member:Bandings
Title:By the Light of My Father's Smile: A Novel
Authors:Alice Walker
Info:Random House (1998), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 222 pages
Collections:Sweden & Swedish
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By the Light of My Father's Smile by Alice Walker (1998)

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English (6)  Dutch (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
from october 26, 2011:

rereading this book, now for at least the third time, i love it even more. there's something about it. the language, the sensuality, the otherworldliness, the honesty. i don't know if i can even name it. i just love it. This is a 5 star book this time around.

some other quotes, although some of the ones below i marked again this read:

"It is as if ideas are made of blocks. Rigid and hard. And stories are made of a gauze that is elastic. You can almost see through it, so what is beyond is tantalizing. You can't quite make it out; and because the imagination is always moving forward, you yourself are constantly stretching. Stories are the way spirit is exercised."

"Laughter isn't even the other side of tears. It is tears turned inside out. Truly the suffering is great, here on earth. We blunder along, shredded by our mistakes, bludgeoned by our faults. Not having a clue where the dark path leads us. But on the whole, we stumble along bravely, don't you think?"

from december 5, 2008:

beautiful and engaging.

"The heady scent she wears rises full-blown into the sultry heat. All around her tension builds. She is the kind of woman who could provoke rain."

"Of course, she said, from watching their mothers make pots, primitive man would assume G-d made men from clay. Though why, seeing their mother's work, they'd think G-d male, she could not grasp."

"Let nothing stand between you and the dance of life."

"Crossing is the point, she said. Crossing is life. Being on one side or the other of the river is beside the point."

"The prisons are a contemporary plantation, and what is produced is produced by slave labor."

"Everyone has suffered, she said. In childhood, I would say, everyone has suffered. It is self-evident.
How, self evident? asked Susannah.
Irene sighed. Look at the world, she said.
Oh, said Susannah." ( )
  elisa.saphier | Apr 2, 2013 |
By The Light of my Father’s Smile is held together by a construct that at first seems artificial initially: a father is looking down on his daughter after his own death.

She was not even aware at the time of my death that she missed me. Poor child. She did not cry at my funeral. She was a stoic spectator. Her heart, she thought, was closed. (3)

As an atheist, I found the idea of an afterlife from which the father was speaking a little disappointing. However it becomes far more interesting when reading on, because we discover that the tradition drawn on is that of the Mexican “Mundo” tribe, the philosophy of which features prominently in this book. On the one hand, the journey of the book is towards the reconciliation of the father and his daughers, Susannah and Magdelena. However the title does not only refer to the relationship of children and parents. It is also about the sublime experience of love-making, since the “Mundo” tribe, describe the sickle moon as a father’s smile blessing the procreative cycles, which allow sexual intercourse to be fruitful. At the beginning of the book, it is clear that sex for the daughters is a transgression and the journey towards reconciliation with the father is also a path towards healing their view of love-making.

In Walker’s vision, a reconciliation of familial and sexual difficulties can only be allowed when the whole family has recounted its narrative and is at peace. For this reason, the narration moves between relatives, who all contribute to the telling of the family story. Flashing back to Susannah’s and Magdelena’s childhood, the family voices tell how the parents are denied funding to study the “Mundo” tribe, ‘a tiny band of mixed-race Blacks and Indians’ due to institutional racism (14). However as a family linked to the black church, the family can become missionaries, in order to live in Mexico and secretly study the "Mundo". Walker’s novel is ultimately a passing narrative that depicts the hateful atmosphere emerging in an atheist family passing as Christians. The father, named only with the formal title Señor Robinson, describes how he is ‘sucked into the black cloth’ of the priest’s costume and his only relief is secret, transgressive sexual pleasure when making love to his wife Langley (156).

Yet in hiding his own sexual pleasure, Señor Robinson also enforces his rule on his daughters, the uncertain Susannah and the more wayward, Magdelena. From Magdelena to Maggie to Mad Dog to June, Magdelena’s names map her course: from the innocence of childhood; to the adoption of “Mundo” peoples’ values (including a belief in the crazy wisdom of the mad dog); to the repression and domestication of her natural sexual instinct. Magdelena’s story is the most touching, as Walker conjures regret and the acceptance of lost ideals vividly.

Yet the centre of the story is Susannah, who must learn to forgive her sister for inadvertently driving the family apart. In the process of this education, Susannah takes on many mentors: women who have had to fight in a society that frowns on difference. For example, Irene, the Greek dwarf, escapes the confinement of her place in society, while Susannah’s lover, Lily-Pauline, manages to build her own restaurant empire in spite of her experience of rape, a loveless marriage and poverty. In the case of each woman, she is saved by the redemptive qualities of friendship and physical love, which leaves the reader like Susannah ‘peering through the mist of the orgasm itself […] seeking what is essentially beyond it’ (190).

Web link: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/entry/in_praise_of/ ( )
  ZBrigley | Jul 7, 2007 |
This book honours and sincerely explores the link between spirituality and sexuality by telling the tale of a family, and all it’s members, after an event that altered their lives forever. Without giving too much away, it’s about the denial of a young girl’s sexuality, and ultimately her self and how that affects her, her father, mother and sister. It also has a huge impact on how they all relate to each other from that point onwards.

What was fascinating to me was that when early on in the book she reveals the event, I couldn't believe that that was it. Simply because this thing happens in homes all over South Africa every single day. It took me a while to realize that it’s not only normal in South Africa, but ALL over the world. Show me a society that celebrates a woman’s sexuality and healthy expression of it and I’ll move there tomorrow to raise my own family of healthy women.

What followed the event was a very insightful and ever-so-interesting portrayal of what happens to us, ALL OF US, when we deny our daughters their sexuality. It’s painful. More painful yet when we have to acknowledge that we do not do the same thing with our sons.

I find that with every Alice Walker novel that I have read so far I am surprised by how indoctrinated I am by living in a patriarchal society. There are things that happen in the world, ways of being, that we all act out each and every day that are just so commonplace that we never ever question them. We don’t conceive that it could be different, because we’ve never heard of it being a different way. When I read her books, not only does she show me different ways of thinking about things, or doing things, but she also gets me questioning why we do it the current way, and then gives me the answer to the best of her knowledge and experience. Her books teach me enough to want to know more and more and more. ( )
  karima29 | Jul 5, 2007 |
"The story of an American family--would-be writer Susannah, her sister Magdalena, and her parents--who take up life with an endangered mixed race of Black Indians in the Mexican Sierras, explores how a woman's denied sexuality leads to a loss of self and the sexual healing of the soul."

Recommended by: Anna
  RavenousReaders | Jun 24, 2007 |
I was impressed! ( )
  fikustree | Mar 7, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345426061, Paperback)

The Mundo are a new tribe, created by the intermingling of escaped Black slaves and native Indians in the Mexican Sierras. Ineligible for academic funding, a husband-and-wife team of African American anthropologists pose as Christian missionaries to secure sponsorship to live among the Mundo and study their culture. This soul-stifling deception underlies the family tragedy at the heart of Alice Walker's novel, her first in six years. The father, preaching the message of his puritanical Protestant sponsors, is "sucked into the black cloth" of Christianity and blinded to the Mundo's life-affirming ways. When he discovers his daughter Magdalena's affair with a young Mundo, he beats her with a belt, thus estranging himself from both her and the younger daughter, Susannah. The first of several narrative voices to speak is his. Dead, he has become an "angel" who observes his daughters from the "other side" and seeks to make amends for the pain he inflicted on them in life.

It is the conceit of By the Light of My Father's Smile that angels have complete access to the consciousness of the living beings they observe. One of the book's very first scenes involves the ebullient lovemaking of Susannah and her partner, Pauline, reported in sweaty detail by the angelic paternal voyeur. Highly explicit, this set piece is a kind of guerrilla assault on our sensibilities, preparing us to receive Walker's urgent message--that sexuality and spirituality are inextricable, that denying one causes the other to atrophy as well. The blessings of fathers are, according to this canon, essential to the sexual flowering and spiritual maturity of their female offspring. It is in the loss, the conferring, and the claiming of these blessings that the novel finds its narrative thrust.

By the Light of My Father's Smile is intended perhaps less as a story than as a parable presenting Walker's cosmology for the new millennium--one that synthesizes ancient and modern wisdoms in a way that's as artistically daring as it is politically correct: Sex is good, repression is evil. Dominant is bad, distaff is good. European culture is dead meat, the third world is wise, there is ongoing commerce between the living and the dead, great orgasms shall set us free. Many readers will agree that a world built upon these precepts surely would be preferable to the one we now inhabit. Here, as in previous fictions, Walker the storyteller is spellbinding, Walker the preacher-theorist, less so. On the other hand, what other novelist risks so bravely or with such generosity, and seeks to give so much? With the proper mindset, Walker assures us, anyone can become a member of the Mundo tribe. --Joyce Thompson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:43 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The story of an American family--would-be writer Susannah, her sister Magdalena, and her parents--who take up life with an endangered mixed race of Black Indians in the Mexican Sierras, explores how a woman's denied sexuality leads to a loss of self and the sexual healing of the soul.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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