cover image The Temple of My Familiar

The Temple of My Familiar

Alice Walker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-15-188533-6

Part love story, part fable, part feminist manifesto, part political statement, Walker's new novel follows a cast of interrelated characters, most of them black, and each representing a different ethnic strain--ranging from diverse African tribes to the mixed bloods of Latin America--that contribute to the black experience in America. As each tells of his or her life (and sometimes, previous lives in various reincarnations), Walker relates the damage inflicted on blacks by the oppression of slavery in Africa and in the South, and less visibly but just as invidiously, by the racial prejudice existing today. Because her characters are intrinsically interesting, (one is the granddaughter of Celie from The Color Purple ) this device works most of the time. But when Walker hypothesizes that Western civilization stole and subverted the ancient African deities, metamorphosing their worship of the Mother Goddess into a patriarchal line, the narrative takes on the strident tones of a polemic. Black women have suffered most, is Walker's message, since they were subjugated both by whites and by men. Unfortunately, didacticism mars the narrative; theorizing and pontificating take the place of action. Thus, though it has its own strengths, the book never achieves the narrative power of The Color Purple . 175,000 copy first printing; major ad/promo; BOMC featured alternate; paperback sale to Pocket Books, author tour. (May)