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“Diary of an African Nun” by Alice Walker (thoughts)

May 18, 2009

As always, I’m posting this on Monday to participate in John’s Short Story Mondays feature. :)

100 Shots of ShortOne of the books I got from the library on Saturday (and I meant to do a vlog, but I was too busy crocheting as fast as possible to get a present done in time for a baby shower) was Children of the Night. It’s a short story anthology subtitled “The Best Short Stories by Black Writers 1967 to Present.” Since I didn’t even crack open the anthology I had before (You’ve Got to Read This: I’ll be revisiting it later, but it got pushed under my bed and I forgot about it…how awful is that?!), I decided that to make this one more approachable (it’s 500+ pages) I’d read from it randomly. Usually, I’m a big stickler for reading stories in the order they’re presented, so this is new for me! Scanning the table of contents, Alice Walker immediately jumped out. I made an abortive attempt to read The Color Purple last year (I find it very difficult to read dialect books, and I’m not a huge fan of the epistolary style), and while I intend to try again, I feel guilty that I’ve never read anything by her. So, I dived into the anthology with “Diary of an African Nun.”

Alice WalkerThis is a very short story, at only four pages, but Walker’s writing style manages to create vivid pictures in such a small space. The imagery is wonderful; here’s my favourite part:

Dearly Beloved, let me tell you about the mountains and the spring. The mountains that we see around us are black, it is the snow that gives them their icy whiteness. In the spring, the hot black soil melts the crust of snow on the mountains, and the water as it runs down the sheets of fiery rock burns and cleanses the naked bodies that come to wash in it. It is when the snows melt that the people plant their crops: the soil of the mountains is rich, and its produce plentiful and good.

Walker uses the voice of an unnamed Ugandan nun to explore the contrast between a white colonial mindset and a black native mindset. There isn’t much character development, and no plot, but the descriptive passages still manage to bring powerful life into the story.

That being said, I think it would have been more powerful if it wasn’t quite as stark a political message. Even though the narrator is a black nun, she doesn’t seem to believe in Catholicism at all, longing for her native customs, and Walker never really explains why she became a nun in the first place. I think a more nuanced approach, more story telling and less parable, would have been stronger. Still, Walker’s sheer writing ability has definitely impressed me. And I’m excited to explore the rest of this anthology!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2009 9:58 am

    Oooh, I want to see a picture of the baby afghan! I actually just finished crocheting one a few days ago myself.

  2. May 18, 2009 12:45 pm

    Great passage. Thanks for your review.

  3. May 18, 2009 5:19 pm

    I’ve never read Alice Walker and have The Color Purple on my tbr list. Maybe I’ll start with a short story instead. It seem that I’ve gotten into the habit of reading randomly from short story anthologies, too…I scan the table of contents to see what appeals!

  4. May 18, 2009 8:53 pm

    I really liked The Color Purple. Maybe because I like the movie so much too?

  5. May 18, 2009 9:16 pm

    Great review. I think I’ll check this short out sometime.

  6. May 18, 2009 9:37 pm

    I loved The color purple. It took me some time to get into it but ultimately it was so worth it. I would have to look into this anthology.

  7. May 19, 2009 4:59 am

    I read The Color Purple several years ago. While I don’t remember a lot of the story, I remember that it took me a while to get into it, but overall I thought it was okay.

    –Anna

  8. May 19, 2009 9:26 am

    Alice Walker writes fantastic stuff, huh? I have enjoyed everything I have read by her!

  9. May 19, 2009 9:51 am

    I’ve never read any Walker. Time to rectify that, I guess.

  10. May 19, 2009 10:22 am

    She is on my TBR list!

    The Ugly Duckling

  11. May 19, 2009 12:33 pm

    Debi, it was a sweater, not an afghan, and even though it turned out adorably, I forgot to take pics!!! Isn’t that awful?! :(

    Toni, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    JoAnn, I think it’s quite fun to read stories randomly…I feel like I’m being a rebel. ;) hehe

    Natasha, I think if I read more than three pages of The Color Purple, I’d end up liking it in the end. I just have to push through my initial resistance.

    Teddy, thanks!

    Violet, I promise I’ll read it one of these days. :)

    Anna, thanks for letting me know!

    Kailana, what else have you read by her?

    John, there are so many authors I’ve never read anything by! That’s one reason why I really like short stories. :D

    Gautami, thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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