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  • Writer's pictureJulia Martins

My Body, My Bookclub: April's Book

Exploring the Depths of Bodily Autonomy in Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy.

CW: violence against women and girls, FGM.

There are some books, like Toni Morrison’s Beloved, that tear your heart apart when you read them, only to bravely and delicately piece it back together by the time you’re finished. Books that make you both hopeless and hopeful, that make you connect with the deeper parts of yourself and question what it is to be human. Possessing the Secret of Joy, by Alice Walker, is one of these unforgettable books.

It is also our April book of the month over at @mybodymybookclub, an online feminist book club focused on bodily autonomy through literature. We’ll be raising funds for the incredible @TheVavengers to support their work in eradicating female genital mutilation (FGM), and we’ll have two special guests, @ellie.melvin and @saarrah.reads.and.paints – both of them are experts on the fight against FGM and

lovely people to chat to, not to mention fellow feminists and bookworms!

Published in 1992, Possessing the Secret of Joy explores crucial themes for feminist discussions, from bodily autonomy and agency to belonging and identity. It tells the story of Tashi, a minor character in other novels by Walker, notably her bestseller The Color Purple, and delves into the harrowing topic of FGM. The book stretches from the fictitious Olinka village in Africa to the United States, following Tashi as a young woman who, having a faint idea of what the ‘initiation ritual’ entailed and feeling the social pressure, voluntarily decides to undergo FGM to reclaim her heritage and connect with her community. The novel explores the consequences of what happens to Tashi and so many young women and girls like her: physical and emotional trauma, psychological scars, complicated sex lives, and medical issues in childbirth. But Walker also tackles the questions of trust, consent, and taboos, and how relationships between husband and wife, mothers and daughters, and families and the wider community are affected by FGM.

The novel is told from different and complementary points of view; Tashi, her husband, their son, Tashi’s friend, the ‘cutter’ who mutilates girls for a living, Tashi’s husband’s anthropologist son, Tashi’s therapist… All these voices come together to offer different perspectives and are all equally human. Tashi herself is sometimes just ‘Tashi’, sometimes ‘Evelyn’ (her American name), and often both. She is a woman who contains many.

Through her eyes, readers are invited to think about how ‘traditional’ and ‘cultural’ practices can deeply shape someone’s sense of self and body. This novel is a testament to human resilience and to the enduring strength (and compassion) of women, which is essential to questioning deeply ingrained beliefs and truly changing society. It is a feminist classic that doesn’t shy away from making readers confront uncomfortable truths about the patriarchal control over female bodies, opening a vital conversation about the importance of bodily autonomy.

Many women suffer from the effects of having undergone FGM, and many young women. and girls are at risk of being cut, even in countries where FGM is illegal. There are even reports of a tragic rise in the number of children being cut. Yet, at the same time, much has changed since Walker’s book was published in the 1990s. Grassroots charities like The Vavengers are paving the way, with survivors39; voices being increasingly heard. I have been a volunteer with The Vavengers for a few years and feel honoured to play even just a small role in joining this fight.

This book left me shattered. But, as I have learnt from fellow feminists through the years, by supporting and lifting each other up, we can glue the pieces of our souls back together and, hopefully, make this world a better place. So, if you enjoy reading and would like to join our chat this April, make sure to book it at (Tickets are donation-based and all proceeds will be donated to

The Vavengers.)

As Walker writes in this powerful novel, ‘the God of woman is autonomy’ – Amen to that!

Be sure to follow @mybodymybookclub and founder @juliamartinshistory on Instagram

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