Walker follows the vast critical and popular success of The Color Purple (1982) with a sprawling mixture of feminism and spirituality centered on six characters searching for their identities and roots. Richly told and full of wonder, it's not so much a novel as an interlinked tapestry of oral tellings that ranges through time and history; too often, though, its overbearing message becomes its medium. Walker's vehicles include Arveyda, a guitarist ("Artists, he now understood, were simply messengers"); Carlotta, his Latin-American wife; Suwelo, a history teacher ("His generation of men had failed women. . .); Fanny, his former wife; Lissie, who can remember her past lives; Hal, her lover; and a group of secondary characters and wisdom figures--including, from The Color Purple, Miss Celie and Miss Shug (a pamphlet, "The Gospel According to Shug," changes the lives of all those who read it). In brief--there are numerous digressions, and the oral tellings emerge from and return to the past--Arveyda marries Carlotta and then makes love to her mother ("exhausted from orgasms that shook her core"); Suwelo inherits a house in Baltimore and meets Hal, then Lissie, whose former lives, some in Africa, are fables of slavery and peace; Fanny recalls Grandmother Celie's words of wisdom, realizes divorce is imminent when Suwelo admits he's too macho to use a shopping-cart, visits Africa (and her father, the playwright Ola), and finally gets together with Arveyda (curious about Africa) in a sauna, where she takes his "candle" in her hand. Carlotta and Suwelo, meanwhile, get together in a hot tub. Consciousness-raisers and New Agers will find this a sweet fairy tale for our times, a fireside reader. Others will enjoy its quirky ebb and flow, but bemoan its smugness and unfortunate tendency to turn characters into mouthpieces.