cover image Possessing the Secret of Joy

Possessing the Secret of Joy

Alice Walker, James Walker. Harcourt Brace, $30 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-15-173152-7

Pulitzer Prize winner Walker illustrates the truism that violence begets violence in this strong-voiced but often stridentan obvious novel? and polemical novel. The focus of Walker's rage is the practice of female circumcision in African cultures. Her tale concerns Tashi, a character who made fleeting appearances in The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar , and who here represents an archetypal figure, not so much a woman as a mouthpiece for feminist distress. Tashi grows up in a small African village but initially escapes the customary clitorodectomy. Eventually she is coerced into having the operation as a means of offering fealty to the sinister politician called Our Leader. When she moves to the U.S. with her husband and assumes a new identity as Evelyn Johnson, her pain and anger, accumulating the suffering of the ages, bubble to the surface in a lingering madness that therapy does not assuage and thatwhy not delete this next phrase (through `finally') as point is made in previous sentence and `accumulate' is repeated, and incorporate the point about ``the ages'' into the previous sentenc finally culminates in murder. Walker tells the story in very brief chapters, each loaded with the sense of the historical importance she wishes to convey, but the fragile narrative cannot support the weight of her overwrought prose. Walker's protest against ok? author's ''message'' in the last review ``what men . . . do to us'' cannot be faulted; its guise as a novel, however, can. (June)