Alice Walker

Difficult Honor

The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult
By Alice Walker
New York: Scribner, 1996; $24

Reviewed by David Templeton

By the time Alice Walker’s 1983 novel The Color Purple won a Pulitzer Prize for literature, the book had already begun its incomparable movement across and within American culture.

Stunning and simple, told through the letters of a resilient and spirited Southern black woman, the book was vilified by some for its stark portrayal of physical and mental violence against women and for its moving description of two women finding love in each other. Despite the narrow-minded criticisms, The Color Purple was received in a manner that cannot be compared to the reception given any other book. It was swiftly taken into people’s hearts in the way that some take religion.

And then Steven Spielberg turned it into a movie.

In Walker’s important new book, The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, the Mendocino County-based author revisits the film set of The Color Purple, describing her personal reactions to the whole experience, in brave, naked detail. At the start of the book Walker poses the question, “What did I learn from this extremely thrilling, challenging, and ultimately liberating experience? How was I changed during this period in my life? In what ways did my personal life and the filming of the book connect?”

What follows is Walker’s attempt to answer these questions, illustrated by her journal entries from the days on the set, excerpts of film reviews, short notes to herself, and snippets of conversation with Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and the other principals of the film. It is not your run-of-the-mill “making of” movie book.

Like the film itself, this new book has already received a fair number of jabs from critics. Walker has been called “arrogant” and “self-obsessed” for including so many personal details. Such criticisms are troubling.

The Same River Twice exposes Walker to criticism only because it exposes Walker. She tells of her battle with Lyme disease, her breakup with a longtime lover, her earth-based spirituality; she apologizes for none of it. Walker is a fascinating literary figure, and it is not arrogant to assume that anyone is interested in such details if her readers are, in fact, eager for such disclosures.

Beyond that, The Same River Twice brilliantly unveils an artist’s pain and joy at seeing her work take on a surprising life of its own. For writers and artists, it is full of valuable insights. And for those who have been touched by either incarnation of The Color Purple, whether it seemed holy and transcendent or merely a good story well told, this refreshing dip into the waters of creativity is a must-read.

From the Feb. 15-21, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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