Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)

by Alice Walker

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,029326,267 (3.89)81
After undergoing a brutal procedure of female genital mutilation in Africa, Tashi, a tribal African woman first glimpsed in The Color Purple, immigrates to the United States and, following her struggles to undertand her past, eventually discovers the secret of joy.

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 81 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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 and the pain she endured, makes this a hard read, but one that is ultimately worthwhile. ( )
  amerynth | Mar 13, 2021 |
dust jacket
  Sheila01 | Jul 27, 2019 |
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 misguided loyalty to her tradition makes her voluntarily submit to FGM, we also learn of how that moment comes to be. There are forces at play- colonial, patriarchal, religious- that displace and alienate Tashi, while also subjugating her.

We also learn of why and how this subjugation sustains itself- an experience that is, in a way, universal. There are cultures of silence that surround such oppression- making it seem, then, as though the silenced bear their pain happily.

In a particularly reflective moment, Tashi says, "If you lie to yourself about your own pain, you will be killed by those who will claim you enjoyed it."

The wisdom encapsulated in the above line from the book captures the crux of Tashi's story itself.

Possessing the Secret of Joy startles you, from the get-go. There are several moments of Tashi's account that horrify the reader. It is by no means an easy read. But it is a read that is worth the process.
( )
  AceFeminist | Dec 7, 2018 |
Possessing joy is hard to find in this book...so many dark feelings, which are completely expected since it's discussing the mutilation of female gentalia.

Despite the rather depressing situations and emotions, I loved the way Alice Walker revealed her characters' perspectives in alternating, out-of-sequence chapters, her carefully crafted words, and the mythological context. ( )
  Connie-D | Jul 22, 2017 |
i don't love the way this is written with the too-short alternating point of view chapters, but it isn't badly done. i just wanted a little more from many of the chapters. because of how much it bounces around, there isn't a lot of detail given, but you get all of the backstory that you need.

far more important is the subject matter. this is a tough book to read as she takes female genital mutilation head on. the main character, tashi, who was in the african pages in the color purple, introduces us to the horror of the ritual itself and the lifelong aftereffects of what she euphemistically calls "bathing". it's an intense thing to read about, and walker ties it nicely into the ways that men use it to keep women and sex under their own control.

she also touches on the slaughter of african animals (specifically monkeys) in the name of big pharm, as well as the possibility that this is how the aids virus was first actually transmitted; an infected monkey was used in the making of a polio vaccine and so began the spread of hiv. but really this book is about the torture that women and girls undergo and perpetuate generation to generation. there isn't a lot of graphic detail, but there is enough to know how incredibly horrendous this practice is.

i remember having an argument with a friend in college (maybe in 1996) about this topic. her view was that we can't judge someone else's culture, that i have no right to say that this is an "incredibly horrendous" practice. i do understand that viewpoint; i think alice walker makes a nice case against that with this story.

this is a hard, but important book.

an epigraph that is from a bumper sticker: "When the axe came into the forest, the trees said the handle is one of us."

"No, no, he used to correct me. They behave this way not because I'm black but because they are white."

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

"They do not want to hear what their children suffer. They've made the telling of the suffering itself taboo. Like visible signs of menstruation. Signs of woman's mental power. Signs of the weakness and uncertainty of men. When they say the word 'taboo' I try to catch their eye. Are they saying something is 'sacred' and therefore not to be publicly examined for fear of disturbing the mystery; or are they saying it is so profane it must not be exposed, for fear of corrupting the young? Or are they saying simply that they can not and will not be bothered to listen to what is said about an accepted tradition of which they are a part, that has gone on, as far as they know, forever.
These are the kinds of questions my father taught me to ask, alas. Adam, he would say, What is the fundamental question one must ask of the world? I would think of and posit many things, but the answer was always the same: Why is the child crying?"

"Now of course every little girl is given a doll to drag around. A little figure of a woman as toy, with the most vacuous face imaginable, and no vagina at all."

"Religion is an elaborate excuse for what man has done to women and to the earth, says Raye, bitterly."

"There is for human beings no greater hell to fear than the one on earth." ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Nov 8, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
If you lie to yourself about your own pain, you will be killed by those who will claim you enjoyed it.
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

After undergoing a brutal procedure of female genital mutilation in Africa, Tashi, a tribal African woman first glimpsed in The Color Purple, immigrates to the United States and, following her struggles to undertand her past, eventually discovers the secret of joy.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
From the author the New York Times Book Review calls “a lavishly gifted writer,” this is the searing story of Tashi, a tribal African woman first glimpsed in The Color Purple whose fateful decision to submit to the tsunga’s knife and be genitally mutilated leads to a trauma that informs her life and fatefully alters her existence. Possessing the Secret of Joy, out of print for a number of years, was the first novel to deal with this controversial topic and managed to do so in a manner that Cosmopolitan called “masterful, honorable, and unforgettable storytelling.” The New Press is proud to bring the book back into print with a new preface by the author addressing the book’s initial reception and the changed attitudes toward female genital mutilation that have come about in part because of this book.
Haiku summary

Popular covers

Quick Links


Average: (3.89)
0.5 1
1 3
1.5 1
2 24
2.5 4
3 73
3.5 24
4 130
4.5 15
5 105

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 166,085,277 books! | Top bar: Always visible