Summer reading;Books

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE. By Alice Walker. The Women's Press pound;10.

Walker's first novel for six years is set in Mexico's Sierras. The narrator is the daughter of anthropologists studying the indigenous people


Michael Lee is deputy head of The English Martyrs School and Sixth-Form College, Hartlepool

Sue Dymoke is head of English at West Bridgford School, Nottingham

Rachel Bennett teaches at Leslie Manser County Primary School, Lincoln

Judy Grant is head of mathematics at a Hertfordshire secondary school

Brigid Crews teaches English at Coombe Girls' School, Surrey

ML A poetic book with a magical dream-like quality. The narrative slips easily between time, place and character. Its depiction of the broad themes of life - love, sex, religion, parental betrayal, death and even food - is breathtaking. It is brutally honest - sometimes uncomfortably so - which is apt for a story about people who have been damaged by lies. Be prepared to be hurt as you read this book, but enjoy a truly remarkable conclusion.

SD A strange journey from

sexuality to spirituality with vivid writing about sex, but this is not vintage Walker. Her attempt at magic realism, interweaving the stories of six different characters both in life and after death, is flawed. She has strayed into territory handled much more subtly by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Gloria Naylor. Her characters' voices, particularly the males', are not distinct enough and the frequent changes of voice add to the confusion.

RB This book moved me with its honest, frank portrayal of growing to maturity. I enjoyed the depth that Alice Walker gives to every character. Snapshots of individual lives build up into a complete picture of family life against a backdrop of death, regret and reconciliation. The reader is allowed to intrude on even the most intimate of occasions, increasing knowledge and understanding of motivation.

JG If you like a book that makes you think and links up important themes such as life, death, redemption, love and sexuality then this book will enchant you. Alice Walker has written a story that can be read on many levels, giving the reader the choice of how much to reflect and consider. She employs many sequential narrators and conveys their differing viewpoints very convincingly and you have the bonus of working out who is the narrator in each section as it is not always clear. The idea that Westerners who study "primitive" tribes often learn from them is not new but is developed adroitly and enables the dead father of the title to make amends for his treatment of his daughter. The title refers to the blessing given to children of the Mundo tribe by their parents when they marry - a powerful message.

BC A novel that explores mysterious territory and invites the reader to share intimate personal experiences with the characters in this life and beyond. Alice Walker shows us, in powerful detail, the suffering, both physical and spiritual, that results from misguided sexual repression but her resolution of this suffering is inspirational and startlingly unconventional. This unusual tale gives food for thought to people of all races and creeds.

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