Summary and book reviews of By The Light of My Father's Smile by Alice Walker

By The Light of My Father's Smile

By Alice Walker

By The Light of My Father's Smile
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  • Hardcover: Oct 1998,
    222 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 1999,
    222 pages.

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Book Summary

By the Light of My Father's Smile is Alice Walker's first novel in six years--a stunning, original, and important book by "one of the best American writers of today" (The Washington Post).

A family from the United States goes to the remote Sierras in Mexico--the writer-to-be, Susannah; her sister, Magdalena; her father and mother. And there, amid an endangered band of mixed-race Blacks and Indians called the Mundo, they begin an encounter that will change them more than they could ever dream. Moving back and forth in time, and among unforgettable characters and their stories, Walker crosses conventional borders of all kinds as she explores in this magical novel the ways in which a woman's denied sexuality leads to the loss of the much prized and necessary original self; and how she regains that self, even as her family's past of lies and love is transformed.

By the Light of My Father's Smile presents, as Alice Walker puts it, "a celebration of sexuality, its absolute usefulness in the accessing of one's mature spirituality, and the father's role in assuring joy or sorrow in this arena for his female children." It explores the richness and coherence of alternative culture, experience of sexuality as a celebration of life, of trust in Nature and the Spirit, even as it affirms the belief, as Walker says, "that it is the triumphant heart, not the conquered heart, that forgives. And that love is both timeless and beyond time."

When she goes to the city she leaves me lounging in the swing underneath the oak tree. She visualizes me as a shadow, as her car zooms around the curves that take her rapidly down the mountain. She is listening to a music I have not heard in many years. At first I think it is Portuguese fado; then I realize it is flamenco, which is also characterized by passion and profound sadness. She moans along with the woman who is singing-wailing, her hands gripping the steering wheel to the plangent cries of the singer and the sobbing of violins. The momentum of her flight sets the old swing to rocking. Her car is old and black. It was another expression of my effort to contact her.

She was not even aware at the time of my death that she missed me. Poor child. She did not cry at my funeral. She was a stoic spectator. Her heart, she thought, was closed. I watched her looking down at me, the father who gave her life, with the passivity of one who has borne all she intends to bear. She did not ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
For Discussion
  1. Why do you think Alice Walker chose to write this novel in the voices of several different narrators? Which character's story do you think is the center of the novel? Do you think the use of different voices interrupts the story or enriches it? Does the author succeed in making each voice distinctive? Give examples.
     
  2. The novel underscores the potency of lies and hypocrisy. The web of deceit practiced by the Robinsons, the African American anthropologist couple posing as missionaries and who are unable to find funding for their study of the Mundo tribe, is particularly telling on this point. How does the irony of their masquerade as "puritanical Christians" play into the tragedy at the novel's center? ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

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.

The San Francisco Chronicle

A jubilant novel . . . [An] evocative family tale of love, passion, and forgiveness.

The Washington Post

[A] stunning, original, and important book by one of the best American writers of today.

Reader Reviews
Hannah

I think that this book was the best book I have ever read. I would like to read more like it

J.L.B.F.

I think that this book is an excellent book except for the fact that it is available to middle school children, such as my son. But, other than that I like the fact that it gives you a feel of how those people were really feeling and why ...   Read More

Shirley A. Mason

Excellent Book! I enjoyed reading it. I love all of Alice
Walker's books. Job well done!!

Ashley Jones

I think By the Light of my Father's Smile was a great book. When I read it I felt as if I was watching along with the angels in the story. HAving others watching and telling what they saw was different. The narrator is usually the person having the...   Read More

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