Book Review

My thoughts on ‘Overcoming Speechlessness’ By Alice Walker

Over the past 6 months I have read the following books by Alice Walker:

Meridian, The Color Purple, Third Life of Grange Copeland, Possessing the Secret of Joy, In Love and Trouble, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, Now is the Time to Open Your Heart, The Temple of my Familiar, By the Light of my Father’s Smile (my favorite of them all!)

Last night I finished reading her short and most recent publication ‘Overcoming Speechlessness“, in which she relays experiences she had while visiting Rwanda and Gaza, mostly though, from her visit to Gaza as part of a CODEPINK mission following the events that took place there 2 years ago- events some will call war and some a massacre- but that indisputably left hundreds of unarmed men, women and children dead.

Ms. Walker’s books have always been a “must read” as far as I’m concerned. You are not fully educated and can not fully and definitively shape your morals without exposing yourself to a vast volume of her writings, in my humble opinion.

Why do I feel this way? Because the beauty of her prose, to me, is the simplicity with which she is able to capture events and relay them compassionately, yet rationally, back to the reader.

But last night, as I was reading ‘Overcoming Speechlessness’ (OS) something changed and I am wondering: was it Alice or was it me? The answer is the latter.

For any Israeli-Jew, regardless of our personal take on the conflict, reading OS, I guarantee, will be a difficult task.

Accepting harsh criticism, from an outsider that doesn’t even take a moment to differentiate between me and my govt. and acknowledge that I personally may in fact be a moral human being, is something that, at least for me, isn’t always easy to accept and let slide by.

So, instead of giving up, I lay down the book many a-time and repeatedly asked myself:

  • did the events she is relating to really happen? yes.
  • is her criticism of them appropriate? yes.

I flip the page.

But, those weren’t the hard questions, the hardest questions lay a level deeper:

  • is she, at times, blowing the events out of proportion? Yes. Writing a book about Rwanda and Gaza, in which you emphasize Gaza much more and paint it in the same light, is something I’m not sure I can fully come to terms with. From my amateur-yet-vast readings on Rwandan history and the genocide and my knowledge of the conflict I grew up in, the comparison of events that took place there, to the ones occurring in Gaza, hardly seems fair to me from either side- the Palestinian and Israeli. Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t being butchered with machetes. Pregnant women aren’t being opened up with knives. Children aren’t being made to watch soldiers rape their mothers and sisters.
  • is she getting all of her facts straight? No. And whilst there’s no point going one by one and disputing them, I’ll just mention one: as mad as one can be at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee camps’ massacre in 1982 during the Lebanon War, and at Israel for it’s role in it- one, out of honesty to one’s morals, can’t solely blame Israel for it, just as one can’t blame the world as the primary murderer of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, even though we allowed for it to happen, fueled it and stood by watching.

Yet, regardless of these 2 points, when finally considering the big picture- do I recommended that others read the book? Yes.

It’s a challenge, its offensive and especially to those of us that don’t support Israel’s policy in the occupied territories, yet are still being grouped by Ms. Walker into the same unethical mob as our Racist govt. is. But, if you can get through it (her writing flows as good as always) and see the big picture, you will find yourself flipping over the last page and realizing that you are once again on Ms. Walker’s side, and you will forgive her for her trespassing into your sacred zone of dignity.


8 Responses to Book Review

  1. anti-israel says:

    hmm. Seemed to have run afoul of the 972 folk. Oh well. Had to interview an Israeli the other day concerning bioscavengers and organophosphate poisons. Naturally we got into a heated debate over Israel. Also books. I said I liked Aharon Appelfeld to some limited extent, (even if he’s always on his 24/7 holocaust hobby horse). I think he’s an ok writer. My interviewee insisted I read Emile Habiby, an Israeli writer I’ve never heard of. It’s sitting on my desk. No–can’t agree with Walker’s comparison of the IDF and Hutu interhamwe. That’s a bit much even for me–a career Israeli reviler !

    • Tahel Ilan says:

      really funny you mentioned Emil Habibi actually, I was just randomly discussing it a few hours ago with a friend!
      His book “The Opsimist” is great, I recommend it ๐Ÿ™‚
      I haven’t read Apelfeld at all. I haven’t been able to find a lot of Israeli authors I like reading- Meir Shalev’s “Russian Novel” i remember as being good. The reason I read it in the first place was because I was into reading the American author Paul Auster (Whose Grandfather was the first mayor of Jerusalem in the 30’s if I remember right). Auster and Shalev are good friends so i figured I’d give it a go and it was a nice read ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. anti-israel says:

    Do you mean “Pessoptimist”? That’s the book I have here..a slender volume. Looks very interesting. I suppose I’ll have to read it! Among Jewish writers/poets I love Paul Celan, Bruno Schultz, Mandelstam, etc. Danilo Kis’ books are very special to me, especially “Hourglass” and “Garden, ashes.” I’m only now getting around to reading Alain Robbe Grillet, who I’m thoroughly fascinated with! Extreme and outlandish.

    nice site!

    • Tahel Ilan says:

      ya, that’s the one- I read it in Hebrew/My broken attempt at Arabic ๐Ÿ˜€ I should probably get my own copy, it’s worth having!
      I haven’t read any of those ๐Ÿ˜ฆ but I will take them as recommendations!
      Lately I’ve been obsessing over Hunter Thompson’s books which offer a much more amusing way of looking at politics than the usual want-to-scream-my-head-off random books all sorts of idiot politicians publish.
      Thanks for the compliment ๐Ÿ™‚ unfortunately I am quite capable of concentrating on everything that I’m not expected to know on exams ๐Ÿ˜›
      So, you work as a journalist in the states?

  3. anti-israel says:

    No..I’m a science writer here, though I did write one item on Israel-Palestine for the commie website Counterpunch. I agree that following political machinations (in Israel or the US) is a good way to become consumed with rage without probably accomplishing much. It’s nice to take a break from it.

    Good luck with exams!

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  5. […] Finally- a book review I wrote for Alice Walker’s “Overcoming Speechlessness”: Here. […]

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