From the Publisher
Praise for Alice Walker:
“Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer.”
—The New York Times Book Review, about The Color Purple
—Ursula K. Le Guin, about The Temple of My Familiar
“Places Walker in the company of Faulkner.”
—The Nation, about The Color Purple
“Hugely original...once again demonstrates Walker’s gigantic talent.”
—Baltimore Sun, about By the Light of My Father’s Smile
Kate Talkingtree, the 57-year-old writer protagonist of Walker's latest concoction, is a lifelong seeker after enlightenment in the carnal, political and religious realms. After dreaming of a dry river, she decides to take this as a spiritual clue and makes two river-centric spiritual quests. In one, she embarks on an all-female white-water rafting trip down the Colorado River, coming home to her boyfriend, Yolo, a painter, with potentially startling news. She has decided that it is time to give up her sexual life and "enter another: the life of the virgin." Yolo, a feminist-friendly guy, takes this as well as he can. Soon Kate is off on another quest, this time in the Amazon rain forest, where she hopes to heal herself through trances induced by yag administered by an Amazonian shaman, Armando Juarez. Yag , a hallucinogenic beverage, is also known as Grandmother to the native peoples. Indeed, it turns out that Kate's Grandmother archetype-representing the Earth, the ancestors and those violated by patriarchy and racism-has been calling out to her. Meanwhile, Yolo, on vacation in Hawaii, encounters a transsexual Polynesian shaman, or Mahu, who charges him with the mission of giving up addictive substances. A subplot involving corporations conspiring to patent yag creates an unintended irony: isn't the mindset that exploits native wisdom for Western corporate greed similar to the mindset that exploits native rituals for the sake of Western spiritual "healing"? Luckily, followers of the goddess, and presumably Walker's readers, are not very keen on irony. Those who retain some affection for that hopelessly outdated and patriarchal trope are advised to bypass this inflated paean to the self. 100,000 first printing; 8-city author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kate is looking for enlightenment. She yearns to find a way to save planet Earth from the humans who are killing it. Then, she dreams of rivers. Taking this as a sign, she abandons her home and her partner and takes a white water rafting trip on the Colorado. This induces her to participate in a retreat on the Amazon with a native shaman and hallucinogenic-induced dreams. Her partner goes on his own quest and, in another setting, on another continent, stumbles onto the same truths that Kate has discovered. Walker uses this novel as a vehicle to explore and voice her own views on the ills of the world and how to heal them. Read from the heart by Alfre Woodard, this audiobook is recommended.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
An aging writer relates the lessons she's learned from life-an unconvincing mix of the politically correct and fabulous-while navigating the Colorado and Amazon rivers. Kate Talkingtree, the narrator of Walker's latest message-driven story (The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart, 2000, etc.), has much in common with her creator: she's a successful writer, an African-American, and a feminist exercised about all the approved issues of the day, racism, environmentalism, and colonialism. And while Walker still lyrically evokes place and mood, the underlying smug preachiness, the unconvincing experiences, and the idiosyncratic thinking make this more a self-indulgent fantasy than an intellectually provocative tale. Kate's search for meaning begins when, haunted by a dream of a dry river and dissatisfied with her current life, she dismantles her altar honoring deities as varied as Jesus, Che Guevara, and friend Sarah Jane, and joins an all-women's group rafting the Colorado. On this voyage Kate regurgitates all the words from her life, all her memories of past marriages, then returns home to her blue house and male lover, African-American artist Yolo, determined to live as a virgin so she can continue her spiritual explorations. She next joins a mixed group of seekers who all have stories to share (think rape, abuse, addiction) as they seek to encounter the Grandmother and drink her healing medicine while sailing down the Amazon. Kate has to take harsh purgatives until the guide determines that she's ready to encounter the universal Grandmother, a large tree. The Grandmother advises against interplanetary travel, tells her about the life-forms from outer space that fled to earth and live inhuman DNA, and preaches the oneness of life. None of which fazes Kate, who returns home to Yolo, now back from traveling in Hawaii, where he learned from the natives to honor the old ancestral ways that are uncontaminated by such white pollutants as sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Purged and instructed, they next make resolutions for the future. An overwrought pastiche of muddled thinking. First printing of 100,000. Agent: Wendy Weil
Read an Excerpt
kate talkingtree sat meditating in a large hall that was surrounded by redwood trees. Although the deep shade of the trees usually kept the room quite cool, today was unseasonably warm and Kate, with everybody else, was beginning to perspire. They had been meditating, on and off their cushions, for most of the morning, beginning at five-thirty when they roused themselves, at the sound of the bell, from their beds. When they broke from meditating inside, they quietly made their way outside and into the courtyard. Up and down the path that led to the front door of the hall they did a walking meditation that had been taught them by a lot of different Buddhist teachers, some from America and some from Asia. It was a slow, graceful meditation that she liked; she enjoyed the feeling of a heel touching the earth long before a toe followed it. Meditating this way made her feel almost as slow as vegetation; it went well with her new name, a name she’d taken earlier, in the spring.
Ever since she was small she’d felt a wary futility about talking. At the same time she realized it was something that, in order for the world to understand itself at all, had to be done. Her old last name had been Nelson, and for a time she’d thought of calling herself Kate Nelson-Fir. She loved fir trees, especially the magnificent, towering ones that grew on the Northwest coast.
When it was time for the dharma talk to begin Kate made her way to a spot close enough to see and hear the teacher very easily. He was a middle-aged man of southern European descent, with an ecru complexion and a shining bald head. His brown eyes twinkled as he talked. Every once in a while he reached up and stroked the silver earring in his left ear. Because of the earring and because he seemed spotless in his flowing robes, she mentally dubbed him Mr. Clean. She had been coming to his talks every day for more than a week, and had enjoyed them very much. Today he was talking about the misguided notion that a “hot” revolution, with guns and violence, such as the ones attempted in Africa, Cuba, and the Caribbean, could ever succeed. He seemed unaware that these revolutions had been undermined not only by their own shortcomings but also by military interference from the United States. The only revolution that could possibly succeed, he maintained, smiling, was the “cool” one introduced to the world by the Lord Buddha, twenty-five hundred years ago.
Something about this statement did not sit well with Kate. She looked at him carefully. He was certainly a well-fed-looking soul, she thought. Not many meals missed by that one, except by accident. Quietly glancing down at the program on the floor beside her, she saw he had grown up in an upper-middle-class home, had had educated and cultured people as parents and as grandparents, had studied and lived in Europe as well as in the East. Was now a prominent professor at one of the country’s most famous universities. Easy enough for him to dismiss the brown and black and yellow and poor white people all over the globe who worried constantly where their next meal was coming from, she thought. How they would feed, clothe, and educate their children. Who, if they did sit down to meditate, would probably be driven up again by the lash. Or by military death squads, or by hunger, or by . . . the list was long.
Looking around her she noticed most of the meditators shared the teacher’s somewhat smug, well-fed look. They were overwhelmingly white and middle- to upper-middle-class and had the money and leisure time to be at a retreat. In fact, she noted, she seemed to be the only person of color there. What was wrong with this picture?
Her mind, which had been clear as a reflecting pool just minutes before, now became cloudy. This was exactly what meditation was meant to prevent. She took a deep breath, labeled her thoughts “thinking,” as she’d been instructed to do if her mind wandered during meditation, and settled herself more firmly on her cushion. She would listen to this teacher, whom she indeed respected very much, and she would not be critical. Besides, she knew what he meant. There was a way in which all “hot” revolutions defeated themselves, because they spawned enemies. Look at those crazy ex-Cubans in Miami, for instance, who never recovered from having some of their power taken away, and the endless amount of confusion, pain, and suffering they caused.
After the talk she began to think in earnest. She felt she had reached an impasse on the Buddhist road.
That evening and the next day and the next she found herself unable to meditate. She kept looking out the window instead, just as she had looked out of the window of the Church of God and Christ, as a child, when she had been unable to believe human beings, simply by being born, had sinned. The redwood trees looked so restful, their long branches hanging down to the earth. Each tree created a little house, a shelter, around itself. Just right for a human or two to sit. She hadn’t realized this before, how thoughtful this was. But on her very next walking meditation she slowly, slowly, made her way to the largest redwood tree and sat under it, becoming invisible to the dozens of people who continued their walking meditation and slowly walked all around her.
When everybody else returned to the meditation hall, she did not.