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Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Review: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

When Terry's mother was dying, she told Terry she was leaving her journals to her. She had 54 of them, one for every year of her life. But Terry had to promise not to read them until after she died.

After her death, Terry reached to them for comfort, and she found... nothing. Nothing. They were blank. All of them. She bought one every year and kept them all on a shelf. What did it mean? What did it mean that she gave them to Terry? And now in 54 short essays and meditations, Terry looks at her life, her mother's life, and tries to make sense of the world.

First of all, I have to say WOW, Terry is SO much more understanding and resigned to this situation that I would have been. I would have been utterly furious. I imagine a lot of screaming, "how dare she!" It's one thing to have pretended to keep a journal. After all, they're Mormon, and that's expected of all women, regardless of whether they actually want to, if they find it helpful, or if it's a burden to them. But to tell Terry they were especially for her and to  make her promise not to read them until after she's dead, and leave no explanation--that's really cavalier with Terry's feelings at the worst time in her life. 

That being said, if you can get past the origin of this book, the essays are beautiful. Ms. Williams is a terrific writer, who loves the environment and the nature surrounding us. She takes inspiration from her mother's lack of voice, and gives her voice back to her. Using the recurring metaphor of women as birds, she ties it all together. It was a quick read and definitely worth it. I've heard of writers and writing classes using this book and that makes sense to me. 

This book is published by Picador, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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