Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker

Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 213 pages, 2004

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: I’ve never really heard anything about Walker beyond the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Color Purple (an assigned high school read), so I picked up Now is the Time to Open Your Heart out of curiosity.

Synopsis: In her late fifties, Kate finds herself pondering the meaning of life and decides to leave behind her lover, Yolo, to go on a quest for a deeper spirituality and understanding of the world. She begins her excursion on the Colorado River with a group of women and carries on to meet shamans and wonder about the place of human beings in nature. Yolo heads for Hawaii, where he’s surprised to find life has things to teach you even if you’re just a tourist on a beach.

Why you should read this book: Regardless of age, it’s the nature of human beings to undergo transformations, and Now is the Time to Open Your Heart offers a solid glimpse into the mind of a woman searching for spirituality. The book manages to be caring and thoughtful but rarely sentimental. The writing is clear even when Kate herself is in a hazy daze from potions stirred up by her spiritual advisors. Yolo provides a nice contrast to Kate, as he has his own quest thrust upon him by an unexpected and unpleasant experience while on vacation. Walker wisely keeps the book short and makes sure there’s always a plot – a difficult task, as the ‘meaning of life’ topic sends many writers into tangled ramblings, but Walker pulls it off.

Why you should avoid this book: If this was an episode of South Park, Cartman would be screaming about the “goddamn hippies.” In other words, there’s a very high New Age factor to this work. It’s not something you can ignore if you don’t like New Age practices and ideas, as the whole story centers around it. Not for people who admire a solid storyline as opposed to dreamy musings.

Opening paragraph:

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 outside, 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.

Fabulous quotes:

While she was regurgitating over her left forearm into the yellowed grass and dusty olive green bushes, she thought of a serving dish her first husband and their child had given her for Valentine’s Day. It had been a lively red and covered with white flowers. It was these white flowers, dozens of them, that now poured from her mouth. At the time of the gift she’d stuffed her disappointment. That she was now perceived as someone who, on a day especially set aside to celebrate lovers, could be enraptured to receive a serving dish.

She was so loving, said Kate. And patient. But brisk too. No nonsense about her. And she didn’t focus much on what was wrong. It really was like sitting in the lap of a gigantic tree, breathing together, and accessing a knowing that would never happen in a high-rise apartment building.
She’s more like: This is like this because that was like that. He did this because earlier he’d done that. She acts like that because where she’s from nobody understood this. And the main thing is that she makes you see that the magic of the mystery we’re in just goes on and on. After all, you realize you’re sitting there, enthralled, being taught by a plant. There is no end to wonder. Yolo, imagine. Even if we live forever, we’ll never get to a place where we can honestly say: There’s nothing happening here, I’m bored. Or, you can be bored, I guess, but you can never say it’s because nothing is happening. Something is always happening. In fact, everything is always happening. It’s amazing, she said, closing her eyes.

Also recommended: Beloved by Toni Morrison; Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall; The Four Agreements by Don Ruiz; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Also by this author: The Color Purple; Possessing the Secret of Joy, The Temple of My Familiar; A Poem Traveled Down My Arm; By the Light of My Father’s Smile; You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down; Meridian; In Love and Trouble; The Third Life of Grange Copeland; Langston Hughes, American Poet; Sent by Earth, Once; Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful; Revolutionary Petunias; In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens; Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987.

Fun tidbit: If the book Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston rings any bells, you actually have Walker to thank, not Oprah (who currently has a made-for-tv movie in production that will star Halle Berry). The works of Hurston, who died in 1960, were almost lost and forgotten until Walker worked to recover and promote them.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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