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Terry Tempest Williams's mother told her: "I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone."
Fans of Williams's iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was a member of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them.
They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books.... "I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty.... Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother's journals were blank."
What did Williams's mother mean by that? In 54 chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question "What does it mean to have a voice?"
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By P. Bergh on 03-24-13
A story for all daughters
I read this as a fan of TTW, not expecting much... after all, it was a book about women and I am a guy. Within minutes, I was drawn in deeply. Ms. Williams shares what it means to be a daughter, a woman, a wife, a child of LDS upbringing, a writer, a birder in a way that is magical. Her writing, as always, is lyrical and thoughtful--improved on this audio version by her own reading. I plan to buy copies of this book for the women in my life for mothers day.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
By E on 07-03-12
Amazing Story, Amazing Voice
This book is amazing, and even better when read in the author's own voice. From the opening chapter, which introduces the haunting image of the dozens of blank journals the author's mother left to her after her death, to the final chapter as Williams finally comes to terms with this act, the book is a tour de force which leaves the listener breathless. Williams delves into her life with a kind of courage few people possess. From her family's proud Mormon pioneer history, to her own bird watching childhood, from the early days of her marriage to her later years as an environmental activist, Williams reveals powerful scenes from her life, seamlessly laced with her own musings, which all add up to a portrait of a remarkable woman.
Though the book is intensely personal, it is not a memoir; the title, Fifty-four Variations on Voice, is very appropriate. What binds its fifty-four chapters together is the issue of voice: What does it mean to have a voice? What does it mean to lack a voice? How does someone find their voice? How do women find their voice? How does one speak for the people or places or things which cannot speak for themselves? Every anecdote, every fact, every philosophical reflection eventually relates back to these problems. With her mother's blank journals as a focal point, Williams dives into this issue of voice with an openness and passion.
Given this emphasis on voice, it is highly appropriate that this book become an audiobook. The considerations of voice become all the more meaningful when one hears them read in the author's own voice.
What's more, Williams's voice as she reads is positively mesmerizing. Commanding yet soft-spoken, at times she sounds like Scheherazade, spinning a forbidden tale; other times she is the voice of a wise elder sharing deep secrets; at some moments she even takes on the role of an activist raising a call to arms. Yet throughout the book she maintains a tranquility, a thoughtfulness, that invites the reader to join her in the private meditations of her soul. Her calm, measured voice makes it seem as though she is weighing each word again before she speaks it aloud, and this gives each word a weight and a magical quality that makes the whole book come alive. In this way, her rendition becomes a towering example of what can happen when a person sets out to find a voice, and the audiobook becomes evidence of the success of her own quest.
As Williams says in Chapter 9 about her experiences in speech therapy as a child, "My task was to honor the power of each word by delivering it as beautifully as I could." Listeners to this audiobook will find she has more than succeeded.
25 of 26 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Marion F.S. on 01-06-18
Listening was light as a feather -
- though I don’t feel I really have the words to review this book; at least not so soon after finishing it. I highly recommend it.
It covers, well; life, generations, women, voice, death and our shadow.