It tells the story of Tashi, an African woman and a minor character in Walker's earlier novel The Color Purple . Now in the US she comes from Olinka, Alice Walker's fictional African nation where female genital mutilation is practiced. Tashi marries an American man named Adam then leaves Olinka because of the war.
Tashi chooses to go back to Olinka to undergo circumcison because she is a woman torn between two cultures, Olinkan and Western. Instead of feeling free from not having the procedure done as a child, she feels bothered by it. She wants to honor her Olinkan roots and has the operation in her teen years, although it is usually performed on female children.
Tashi later sees several psychiatrists because she goes crazy due to the trauma she has suffered before finding the strength to act. The novel is told in many different voices, which are the characters in the novel. The novel explores what it means to have one's gender culturally defined and emphasizes that, according to Walker, "Torture is not culture."