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Finding Beauty in a Broken World Paperback – October 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Williams (The Open Space of Democracy) travels to Ravenna, Italy, a town famous for its ancient mosaics, to learn a new language with my hands. Back home in Utah, Williams views the lives of a clan of endangered prairie dogs—a species essential to the ecological mosaic of the grasslands and the creators of the most sophisticated animal language decoded so far—through the rules of Italian mosaics. After intimate study of a prairie dog town at Bryce Canyon, her visit to 19th-century prairie dog specimens at the American Museum of Natural History segues, dreamlike, to a glass case of bones from the genocide in Rwanda, where Williams, overwhelmed by the death of her brother but knowing that her own spiritual evolution depended upon it, travels with artist Lily Yeh, who understands mosaic as taking that which is broken and creating something whole, to build a memorial with genocide survivors. The book, itself a skillful, nuanced mosaic (a conversation between what is broken... a conversation with light, with color, with form) uses this way of thinking about the world to convincingly make the connection between racism and specism and sensitively argues for respect for life in all its myriad forms. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ecologist and writer Williams composes gracefully structured inquiries lush with unexpected and revelatory correspondences. In her most far-reaching and profoundly clarifying work to date, Williams considers the complex beauty of brokenness and the redemptive art of creating wholeness from fragments in a triptych of explorations. She begins in a mosaics workshop in Ravenna, Italy, and then brings the understanding gleaned from working with tesserae to her day-by-day observations of a beleaguered Utah prairie dog town. Williams marvels over this tunnel-building, highly communicative species and dubs them “prayer dogs” for their habit of standing and watching the sunset. Prairie dogs are crucial to the biodiversity of the grassland ecosystem, a living mosaic, yet they have been brutally massacred and driven to the brink of extinction. The story of her brother’s death entwines with Williams’ riveting account of her trip to Rwanda with visionary artist Lily Yeh to help create a genocide memorial. Brokenhearted in this land of bones and sorrow, Williams gathers shattering stories of death and resilience with the help of an extraordinary survivor who becomes her son, bearing witness to the horror of neighbors slaughtering neighbors in an attempted annihilation. Scientific in her exactitude, compassionate in her receptivity, and rhapsodic in expression, Williams has constructed a beautiful mosaic of loss and renewal that affirms, with striking lucidity, the need for reverence for all of life. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725197
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

She is the award-winning author of Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge & most recently Red - A Desert Reader. She lives in Castle Valley, Utah.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Yours Truly VINE VOICE on October 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Reading anything by Terry Tempest Williams, you know you're in the hands of a deeply moral writer. Her "Refuge" is one of my favorite books, linking the shrinking of the Great Salt Lake and its effects on its flora and fauna to the slow death of her mother from cancer induced by exposure to radiation.

She attempts something similar here, using brutal and inhumane attempts to kill off the prairie dogs of the plains and high desert as a counterpoint to the heinous war between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, which she visits after the media have moved on. The image she uses to portray life in the global 21st century is of mosaics, which she studied in Italy and takes with her to Africa. This work is less successful than Refuge, I think, because the magnitude of suffering she conveys after speaking with survivors of the Rwandan genocide is so overpowering. Another writer might have limited a book to that single topic, but Williams, a trained naturalist, is more ambitious; she wants to draw us into the interdependent web of life that covers the planet.

Cancer takes another of Williams' family members here, but the loss is balanced by a blessing that Williams and her husband, Brooke, thought they had foregone when they elected not to have children. (No, she didn't adopt a baby like some people with higher profiles.) Even if she goes on a bit too long about those cute prairie dogs (I skipped 20 pages), she makes the point eloquently that all life is fragile and that we must pay close attention to its value.

You might get the impression from reviews that Williams is sentimental. Quite the opposite, her observations of science and of life's brutality lend her work the edge that must have frightened the superintendent of Bryce Canyon into saying she wasn't welcome there. She went anyway, and we should be glad she's about in the world.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on October 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book - a deeply personal yet soulful, a poet's journey into the world. Only a writer like TTW could have written something so intuitively timed for this day and age because she is utterly tuned into the planet's pace (see her very important OPEN SPACE OF DEMOCRACY). It is the gift of this writer to force us to slow down, to absorb peace and the consequences of violence in equal measure and to take stock of our own values. It is impossible not to read her work without a soul's level. Read this and be transformed.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Westword on November 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a magical book....from Italy to Bryce Canyon to Rwanda...all along the path Terry took following her own muse, the same that took her to Spain (LEAP) and to Great Salt Lake (Refuge). This time her path led her to Louis Gakumba, a young Rwandan man, now living in Utah thanks to this book and Terry's inquiry. This book is the real thing. I couldn't get enough of it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mariannekmilks on September 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is at the highest end of my bookshelf, sharing space with only the greatest. I was immersed from the moment I started reading. I am biased in that I know and deeply love Ravenna. I soon discovered how even, in Terry's writing style, she used mosaics within her words and fragments which, to me, made it even more powerful. The messages to see, better observe and appreciate the restoration of broken images, no matter how long ago or how recent they had been created and destroyed. To focus that what is broken can always be healed as long as we see what is there, not what we wish but what we learn to see. And as long as we are willing to look at each fragment with care of not only the heart, but mind and prior knowledge, there is hope.
The middle section about the prairy dogs I found interesting for a while (I love those little creatures), then became utterly bored. I saw the picture but was finished. I could not understand the style. I didn't bother completing it.
Rwanda was an experience that I find doubtful for anyone to forget. Again: detail for feelings, society and societal relationships were awe-inspiring. It's history brought tears to my eyes many times. The beauty of the mosaic memorial, intertwined with the mosaics of the Rwandan people's healing lives was also healing to me. Incredible in so many aspects.

Then I realized I had to go back to the little guys out west. It was then that I understood the writing style (somewhat scientific as opposed to narrative). The picture is only too clear, and so fitting in the setting of the book.
Bravo, Terry. I feel privileged to have become part of that world. I am also going to Ravenna to take the class! It will have yet a different meaning!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Claire Ford on April 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
After hearing an up-close-and-personal reading from Terry Tempest Williams herself, I scrambled to find a copy of one of her books--any of them! My first stop was this delightful work of creative nonfiction: Finding Beauty in a Broken World. From Ravenna, Italy to her home state, Utah, and on to the rest of the world, Williams discovers the earth's splendor in the unpredictable forms this critic has never seen elaborated upon. Throughout the text, Williams employs clever word arrangement both in syntax and in word and space placement on the page to denote an overall sentiment of mosaic, a main exploratory focus of Williams that shines its refracted light throughout the narrative. On top of placing tesserae into limestone and feeling her eyes brighten to the unique reflection of light through opaque glass, Williams explores the mosaic forms of the environment in her thorough study of prairie dogs, an endangered species familiar to her home state. And the wonder of this work of prose is exactly that: William's ability to eloquently compare Italian mosaics to Utahn prairie dogs, capturing readers into a world of unlikely but remarkable comparisons.
Finding Beauty in a Broken World highlights the interstices between pieces of glass, the filling that cements life experiences together into one work of art. Williams notices first the ornate, but then the austere elements of a world she calls broken, and in doing so, turns the imperfections from dull and dreary to glistening and gleaming. Finding Beauty in a Broken World is a perspective-changing work of art you won't want to miss.
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