Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart
by Alice Walker
Published by Random House
240 pages, 2003
Reviewed by Nicole Moses
Most people know Alice Walker from her bestselling novel-turned-motion picture, The Color Purple. Yet this talented and Pulitzer-Prize winning author has written many bestsellers, as well as three collections of short stories and essays, six volumes of poetry and several children's books. Now is the Time to Open Your Heart is her latest fictional offering and perhaps her most profound work to date.
Complete with out-of-body experiences and ethereal dreams, this story would probably have had a tough time being published in earlier decades. But in the new millennium, when astral travel is all the rage and psychics are purportedly talking to entities on The Other Side -- on their own television shows -- this book couldn't have emerged at a better time. Walker dedicates this story to her murdered paternal grandmother, Kate Nelson, citing the novel as a "memorial to the psychic explorer she might have become."
An intense commentary on the human spirit and what can happen when it is neglected, Now is the Time to Open Your Heart asks the reader, among other things, to acknowledge the existence of Mother Earth and Her healing power. This theme of being healed by nature is undoubtedly the predominant theme in the book, yet Walker also touches upon other issues including relationships, the human condition, wisdom and the seemingly hopeless current state of world violence.
She writes, "When you witness the various peace talks that occur on a daily basis somewhere on the earth and you see how far everyone is from peace, and how they get no nearer the longer they talk, well, this gives an indication of the problem." She also questions humankind by asking, "If you see a human being, really see them ... how could you kill them?" She wonders, "What would happen if our foreign policy centered on the cultivation of joy rather than pain?" With an informal yet mature writing style, Walker targets a multicultural adult audience. However, her general message -- get your mind and body right and your heart will follow -- is a universal one that can be understood by people of all ages.
The novel is written in the third person, except for certain segments in italics where the Mother Earth concept (known in the book as "Grandmother") speaks in first person. The story follows a woman named Kate Nelson whose existence is changing into something unknown. Past her mid-50s and already married many times, she is a loving mother as well as an extensively published and popular author. Still, something is not quite right with Kate's life.
She is beginning to care less and less about the material world. One day she burns "several hundred-dollar bills just to demonstrate to herself that these items were not the God/Goddess of her life." She's no longer worried about her house and all the things about it that need fixing. In fact, she's even contemplating selling it. In her own words, Kate Nelson is "unconvinced of the need to do anything further" with her life.
So when a recurring dream of a river spurs her to go out and find the real thing she journeys, with several other women, to the Grand Canyon to travel the Colorado River. From the very beginning of the trip, Kate undergoes a literal purging as hidden memories and repressed emotions surface, forcing her to confront them and neutralize their negativity. Eager to continue her personal evolution, she travels to South America to the Amazon on another spiritual retreat of sorts.
Under the guidance of the Devic Kingdom and a powerful shaman, Kate and several others ultimately transform themselves into newer, cleaner and more balanced versions of the people they once were. At the same time, Kate's partner, Yolo, whom she has left behind in America, is undergoing his own spiritual metamorphosis. A trip to Hawaii, originally intended to be a regular vacation, quickly becomes much more valuable an experience than Yolo could ever imagine.
In this alternate storyline we learn about the island's history and it's previous rule thousands of years ago by Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani. (Who knew?) We also learn about the importance and reverence placed upon land and nature by the Hawaiian people. The story ultimately ends on a high note leaving room for the reader to imagine a more detailed ending of their own design. Both entertaining and enlightening, Alice Walker's latest masterpiece is right on schedule: now is the time to open your heart. | August 2004
Nicole Moses is an author, a poet and a songstress. Devouring books and expressing herself creatively through words are her true passions in life. She lives in Montreal, Canada with her fiancé, James, and a scraggly monkey named Homegrown.