The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Color Purple, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and The Temple of My Familiar now gives us a beautiful new novel that is at once a deeply moving personal story and a powerful spiritual journey.
In Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart, Alice Walker has created a work that ranks among her ?nest achievements: the story of a woman’s spiritual adventure that becomes a passage through time, a quest for self, and a collision with love.
Kate has always been a wanderer. A well-published author, married many times, she has lived a life rich with explorations of the natural world and the human soul. Now, at fifty-seven, she leaves her lover, Yolo, to embark on a new excursion, one that begins on the Colorado River, proceeds through the past, and flows, inexorably, into the future. As Yolo begins his own parallel voyage, Kate encounters celibates and lovers, shamans and snakes, memories of family disaster and marital discord, and emerges at a place where nothing remains but love.
Told with the accessible style and deep feeling that are its author’s hallmarks, Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart is Alice Walker’s most surprising achievement.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.26(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.61(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Date of Birth:February 9, 1944
Place of Birth:Eatonton, Georgia
Education:B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the preface, Alice Walker writes, “My father’s mother was murdered when he was a boy. . . . This novel is a memorial to the psychic explorer she might have become.” How does this statement affect your understanding of Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart? Do you think that any attributes of the real Kate influenced the writing of this book? Does setting a character rooted in reality at the center of the novel give it any particular resonance?
2. What does the book’s title mean to you? How does the refrain “open your heart” course throughout the story? At the beginning of the book, what do you think Kate’s heart is closed toward? How about Yolo’s? Does this change as the novel unfolds?
3. Dreams play a significant part in the book. What is it about Kate’s dream that compels her to leave on her journey? Why is it significant that Yolo begins to dream immediately upon her departure? How does the novel blur the dream world with that of reality? In which ways does Walker’s writing itself often attain a dreamlike quality?
4. How is Yolo’s voyage of self-discovery similar to the one Kate embarks upon? How is it different? How do Yolo and Kate complement each other in their relationship? Initially, why is each of them so convinced that their romantic partnership is over?
5. How do the ghosts of the past—Kate’s mother, for instance—guide her and the others around her? In which way is Kate more mindful of these internal voices than of those that speak in the present? What actions does she take to be free of these specters and shadows?
6. Describe Kate’s experience in the rain forest. How is the rain forest a living, breathing entity in the novel? How does the setting around her affect Kate’s own personal journey? Why do you think the medicina ceases to have an effect on her?
7. Compare and contrast Kate’s inner self to the façade she presents to the outside world. How is she true to herself, and how does she hide herself away? How does this sense of self compare with that of the other women with whom she comes in contact, including Lalika, Missy, and Anunu?
8. Describe the notion of the Grandmother in this novel. What forms, both literal and metaphorical, does she take? What do you think that Kate seeks from her? How does Kate come to identify with Grandmother, and in what ways does this give her peace and contentment? Knowing that the character of Kate was spurred by the author’s real-life grandmother, how does the constant refrain of Grandmother in the book resonate?
9. “Smoking had taught him about emptiness, the need to fill internal space,” thinks Yolo (p. 18). How else do he and the other characters attempt to fill themselves up? How does Yolo convey his ideas about space in his paintings? Why do you think Grandmother tells Kate, “You must live for at least two years in space”?
10. Names have a particular resonance in this book. Yolo has created his; Kate thinks of changing hers to indicate her love of trees; the hula girl Leilani is really Alma; Lalika and her friend Gloria adopt the name Saartjie. Why are names, either given or created, so important to the characters? How does changing or considering a name change enable characters to reinvent themselves?
11. What effect do the chapter titles have on the narrative structure of Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart? Why doesn’t Walker use devices like quotation marks? What does this choice lend to the tenor and tone of the story? Do you feel that there is one driving narrative voice of the novel? If so, whose?
12. What do you make of the interlude “First of All, Abandon,” which is set off from the book and isn’t told from the same point of view? Who do you think is the narrative voice of this section? What impact does it have on the novel as a whole?
13. “I saw someone with a story to tell,” says Kate of her vision of a tortured ancestor (p. 90). How does she view herself as a vessel for those stories? How can she unburden herself of her own stories through her work as a writer? In which ways do you think this mind-set parallels Walker’s experience with this particular book?
14. How are reptiles and animals important, both in the cycle of life and in Kate’s and Yolo’s journeys? What nonhuman forms does Grandmother take, and why is each of these forms significant?
15. How does concern for the environment and for the living world affect the characters? What role does water play?
16. Saartjie, also known as the Hottentot Venus, takes a paramount role in Lalika’s life. Why do you think Lalika turns to her for help? In which ways does Saartjie become an icon to her and to others?
17. The book includes characters who are Makus—women that are really men. In this way, and in others, how does Walker play with the notion of a fluid gender identity? How does she explore the notion of female power and a matrilineal society?
18. What do the others that Kate and Yolo meet on their journeys teach them about the world and about themselves? Who do you think has the most profound impact on each of them? In turn, who do Kate and Yolo influence the most?
19. “I started to understand why to myself and often to other people I have felt invisible,” says Rick (p. 152). How is this book about the artifice of appearance and the act of stripping that away? How do Yolo and Kate seek to be visible, not only to others but to themselves? Who else seeks to become visible in the book, and who do you think will be the most successful in that quest?
20. The concept of devotion plays a large role in the book. To what are both Yolo and Kate devoted at the beginning of the novel? How does that devotion change and evolve as the story unfolds? What value is placed on devotion to ancestors and the past?
21. Yolo listens with interest to the stories of the aborigines (p. 134). How does the sense of an “original people” permeate the book? What would Kate and Yolo consider their original people? How do they want to return to their roots? How does Walker twist notions of color, race, and religion in unexpected ways throughout the novel?
22. The medicina “will teach you to see through your own plots,” Armando had promised Kate (p. 180). What artificial plots have the characters constructed about their own lives? In which ways are these constructs coping mechanisms? How is this artifice detrimental to their development and their happiness?
23. Why do Yolo and Kate ultimately decide to stay together? How have their solo journeys solidified their bond? Why do you think they choose to make a public, if unconventional, display of their union?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I just received this book as a Mother's Day Gift and I was very pleased as I am a fan of Walker's work, mainly A COLOR PURPLE. Imagine my surprise when barely two pages into the first chapter 'Cool Revolution' she attacks Cuban-Americans of which I am one! Here, I quote...'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.' Wow! My head shot back and my first reaction was: Where did she get this misinformation? Isn't this an educated and trusted woman who would not write such a heartless misrepresentation of the truth about Cuban exiles? I would love to ask her if she thought these 'crazy cubans' were also responsible for their homes, jobs, and country being taken away and in many cases their lives and those of their families. I would love to ask her if she personally knows any of 'these crazy cubans'. I would guess she does not for my fellow countrymen (for the most part)are worthy of respect and admiration for their hard work, close family ties, and good citizenship. I suggest she take her own advice and OPEN HER HEART!