BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE by Alice Walker

BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE

KIRKUS REVIEW

Another idiosyncratic novel from Walker (Possessing the Secret of Joy, 1992, etc.), moving and puzzling by turns. Ostensibly about the search of Susannah, a successful novelist, to come to terms with her past, the book often reads more like a series of mournful lectures about the ravages inflicted on the planet, and on women, by the white patriarchy. Susannah has been fortunate enough to spend much of her childhood among the Mundo, a deeply spiritual tribe in the Sierra Madres, descendants of Mexican Indians and escaped slaves. Susannah and her sister Magdalena are taken to live with the Mundo by their parents, enthusiastic amateur anthropologists, partly to allow the family, who are African-Americans, to escape some of the violence visited on blacks in 1950s America. Susannah takes a nurturing sense of spirituality from her stay with the Mundo. Her sister, Magdalena, however, is badly scarred by the manner of their leaving: Discovering that the adolescent Magdalena has taken a Mundo boy as a lover, her father beats her and sweeps his family back to the States. The novel, narrated in the voices of a number of characters (living and dead), follows Susannah and Magdalena’s varying paths: the writer Susannah takes lovers and restlessly searches for enlightenment; the self-destructive Magdalena becomes an academic and is only redeemed when she reunites briefly with her Mundo lover, though too late to stop her slide toward suicide. Susannah’s peace is helped not only her knowledge of the Mundo but by several ghosts and a wise, elderly Greek woman, a devotee of the old fecund religion of the Goddess. Walker is still a wonderful storyteller, offering a prose of great lucidity, but many of the characters here seem unbelievably serene and rather one-dimensional, with the discursive tale offering too little action, and too many lectures. An uncomfortable mix of visionary fable and screed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-50152-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998




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