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Book Review: Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker


I read The Color Purple in junior high school, and it haunted me. But I discovered Alice Walker my sophomore year in college, buying Possessing the Secret of Joy at a used bookstore on the University of Pennsylvania campus, and returning over the course of the year to purchase every one of her books they had. Her writing has changed me.

Simply put,  Possessing the Secret of Joy is a hard book. The book centers about Tashi, a woman from a fictional African nation. She moves to the United States, but returns to her country as a teenager to go through a coming of age ritual that includes female genital mutilation. Following the surgery, she is changed. A woman torn between two cultures, she is devastated by the violence that has been done to her.

This book pulls no punches. Walker has done incredible research into the experiences of women who have gone through this trauma. When interviewed, she has said that she wrote about the book to express her belief that, “torture is not culture.”

Walker does not shy away from difficult topics. This book is heartbreaking, but so important. It gives dignity to Tashi, and to the women in the world whose story she tells. She is able to show the tension of living between two worlds, not belonging to either. And by the use of multiple narrators, she shows the pain to the community that surrounds women who have been victims of physical violence.

This book opened my eyes to how the stories we tell, the expectations we face, and the “way things are done” can shape our identities, even in subtle and unseen ways.


Intended audience: adult

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