November 01, 1982 12:00 PM

by Alice Walker

The first few pages of this novel, which takes the form of letters written by a 14-year-old black girl who is frequently raped by her father, are like a kick to the stomach. The girl’s letters, first to God (the father has warned, “You better not never tell nobody but God”) and in later years to a sister who has become a missionary in Africa, span 40 years. They speak of hopelessness—even her husband says scornfully, “Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman…you nothing at all”—but somehow she hopes. The saga is written in a black English that is both moving and true. (Walker, a Georgia-born black, now lives in San Francisco.) The missionary sister’s letters back home in the latter half of the book constitute a kind of African sojourn, and if that seems less involving it is only because the main plot is so powerful. This third novel by Walker obviously has special appeal for blacks, but it will strike home to all women in general. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $11.95)

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