WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS by Terry Tempest Williams


Fifty-Four Variations on Voice
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An elegiac exploration of nature, creativity and Mormon female family relationships.

After her mother's death from cancer, Williams (Finding Beauty in a Broken World, 2008, etc.) discovered that the journals she had left behind did not contain what she expected. This prompted the author to conduct a reflective search. In numbered sections of varying lengths, memories intersperse with mentions of the journals, whose “harmony of silence” haunt her as a poetic refrain. Williams recalls her bird-watching grandmother, Mimi, her mother’s originality, and events that would guide her toward becoming a writer and a naturalist. Declaring that “Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happenings of our lives,” Williams considers the work of, among others, Gustave Courbet, Robert Walser, John Cage and Wangari Maathai (“People like Wangari don’t die, that’s how irretractable and resilient she was to me”); music and birdsong; poetry; creation myths; birth; personal accounts of marriage and work; and the importance of empowerment both as a woman and as a wildlife advocate. She draws intelligent connections between varied subjects, with emphasis on voice and silence and how the two richly inform one’s inner life. Over the course of several decades, the ability “to speak through our vulnerability with strength” became a hard-won realization.

A graceful examination of how grief inspires a writer to merge private and public interests.

Pub Date: April 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-28897-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2012


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