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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you cry. Powerful and moving!
This book is so powerful and so moving, it brought me to tears in more than one place. This is an amazing story of place, family, love, and the desert. Last winter I had to read one of Williams' books for a course and have become addicted to her writings. Williams is a Mormon naturalist who pushes the boundaries of both, and her unique insights bring a freshness to both...
Published on December 19, 2005 by Steven R. McEvoy

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not great but not bad
I thought this book was just okay. I had high hopes for this book after I read select excerpts in my literature and environment class. And on some levels, it did deliver. There were parts of the book that were very touching and beautiful. Especially the parts concerning her family and the people side of things. But there were other parts that were quite boring. I mean,...
Published on January 18, 2012 by Misslissy


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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you cry. Powerful and moving!, December 19, 2005
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
This book is so powerful and so moving, it brought me to tears in more than one place. This is an amazing story of place, family, love, and the desert. Last winter I had to read one of Williams' books for a course and have become addicted to her writings. Williams is a Mormon naturalist who pushes the boundaries of both, and her unique insights bring a freshness to both faith and preservation. I have tracked down and read all of her books that are currently in print, and this is the most powerful of them. Terry states in another book, "The great silences of the desert are not void of sound, but void of distractions." This book is about the silences and the distractions of death, the death of her mother and of the bird refuge that she loved and that was her solace. The chapter headings are unique, written as a journal, but not by date but by lake height. As the Great Salt Lake rose to record heights in the mid-1980's, Terry's mother was dying of cancer, and the Salt Lake's rising was flooding the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge. The refuge was sacred to Terry as a place she and her grandmother would visit together, and as a place to get alone outside of the city to reflect, meditate and believe.

Terry begins the prologue with "Everything about the Great Salt Lake is exaggerated - the heart, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain. ... Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family." pg.3. This book chronicles one woman's love of the desert, of the bird refuge and of her family. It tells the story of cancer clusters in the desert where the US Government tested thousands of nuclear devices from the 1940's to the 60's.

Journey with one woman, through disease, death, destruction and the desert; journey with her both through the physical landscape and the internal one, to a new place- a place of determination and desire to make change and to grow from all she has been through.

Terry states in the epilogue, "I belong to a clan of One-Breasted Women. My mother, my grandmothers, and six aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven are dead. The two who survive have just completed rounds of chemotherapy and radiation." pg. 281. This is a story of a strong woman who shares her pain, and her strength, to help us all see what could be possible with the triumph of the human spirit.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Natural History, September 13, 2002
By 
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
This is a unique book worth owning, reading, and pondering more than once. I am very grateful to Terry Williams for having had the courage to write it and have it published. I have had it added to our patient library.
As a medical and radiation oncologist with nearly a quarter century of experience, as a man whose parents died of unusual malignancies, and as the parent of a child with cancer, grief is a part of the experience of life with which I am well acquainted. This book is probably the most honest and eloquent expression of grief and the struggle of an extraordinarily sensitive woman with spirituality and loss as I have ever read. It is not without its faults, but even these are very revealing about the way human beings deal with a world in which change and loss are inevitable.
Faults? There are only two that come to mind. One is the title. There is nothing in this book that is unnatural in any way. Loss and sorrow are as natural as any other human experience. The second is the trap so many of us fall into of searching for cause and effect, a way to assuage grief by assigning blame that becomes evident in the final chapter. However, Mrs. Williams can be forgiven for that. She has left us with an insightful and lyrical account of her mother's illness and the comfort the beauty of the natural world brought to a daughter left alone. This is one woman with a sensitive and honest heart who is not afraid to let the rest of us look inside. There is much to be learned from what Mrs. Williams has written and Refuge is highly recommended.
By the way, Terry, one of your mother's doctors, Gary Johnson, delivered my son who was fortunate enough to survive his own battle with cancer 18 years later. It was a pleasure to see his name mentioned. Gary was one man for whom I had a lot of respect when I was a senior medical student at the University of Utah in 1977. Thanks very much for writing this book. You have my apology on the part of my profession for the stupidly insensitive way your mom was treated on certain occasions. And you have my gratitude and respect as well. I wish I had known you and your family when I was growing up in SLC.
MS
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave and Poetic, November 4, 2001
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This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
From the refuge of pain and loss in her Great Salt Lake desert world, Terry Tempest Williams weaves a beautiful and lyrical journal from the intricate fabric of landscape. A landscape that is both ravished by natural and perhaps man made destruction. The history of this land is the history of Williams' family and she serves the reader well as journalist, historian and naturalist.
In the spring of 1983 a significant rise in the Great Salt Lake began to flood her beloved Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and at the same time cancer cells began to flood her mother's body. As owls, avocets and egrets struggle to survive the rising waters, Williams' mother struggles to find peace and comfort in dying. Where mother nature is damaged, mother Tempest is too.
Williams has a truly poetic ability to tie the spirit of land and of family into one beautiful image. "I am reminded that what I adore, admire and draw from Mother is inherent in the Earth. My mother's spirit can be recalled simply by placing my hands on the black humus of mountains or the lean sands of desert. Her love, warmth, and her breath, even her arms around me-are the waves, the wind, sunlight, and water.", she writes.
In the process of dealing with so much pain and loss Williams shifts from a casual observer of life's folly to passionate activist. Ultimately she puts the pieces of puzzle together to see a picture of generations of cancer certainly tied to exposure to the on-going nuclear testing by the American government in the Utah desert. William's chilling awakening to the manipulation of the environment by man in the name of progress should serve as our own wake-up call to the capacity of destruction that we have tolerated.
Landscape becomes refuge and offers hope of healing. Williams writes, "It's strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. "
This book is a wonderful testament to life and to the power and capacity for regeneration and healing. The book also provides very poignant and heartfelt lessons on embracing our dying and our loss and celebrating life in every moment.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growing up in Southern Idaho/Northern Utah, February 17, 2000
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
I grew up in the same area at about the same time as this author. I now live in New Mexico but I continue to return to this same area many times each year. Last September my own father died of cancer in Southern Idaho. My best friend had read this book prior to my father's death and held it back from me until now. I devoured this book, putting other activities aside, just finishing it last night. I am ordering it for several other friends and my mother who I think will be as touched by it as I was. If you are in to birds you will love the descriptions and ways she uses the different birds to represent the stages of change. If you are Mormon OR even non-Mormon from the area, you will appreciate the spirituality of the author who incorporates the development of her own spirituality into the network of the story.
Having just buried my dad, I wept while reading of her mother's illness, reliving my own father's long struggle with a cancer we couldn't identify. Be prepared to be struck by her descriptive and loving words. If you are grieving, you may wish to emmerse yourself in her words as I did. I feel better having flushed much of those lingering doubts from my head.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark, wrenching, uplifting..., February 2, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
I had the excellent fortune to be 'required' to buy and read this book for a university literature course nearly a year ago. Williams' simple, elegant prose gripped me fully for more than 80% of the book -- providing me with two sleepless nights during which I could not find it within my will power to leave the book until the next day. The intensity of several scenes were so formidable as to leave me, literally, trembling with emotion. The book provoked feelings which remain close to my heart still.
Every student in my class of 30 felt unanimous in their high praise and, after a week's discussion, we were rather disappointed at the necessity of moving on to the next topic. It is one of those precious finds that would require a good deal of time to fully probe and reflect upon on the depth of its heart-felt narrative. Its symbolism, levels of meaning and complexity are well laid in a simple prose that is easily accessible.
As for myself, I immediately sent a copy to my mother for Mother's Day, after which she related the same powerful feelings about the story and determined to send a copy to her own mother. Please, take the time to experience this book -- you will not regret the time well spent.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, intimate, important storytelling, August 2, 2000
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
An intimate telling of family and loss, courage and humor, honest confrontations with mortality, a deeply spiritual tone, and chapter titles introducing us to over thirty different birds, this beautifully descriptive and authentic tale leaves us with tears and a search for binoculars and a bird guidebook. Terry Tempest Williams weaves with great detail the heart breaking and life affirming events of the simultaneous devastation of her mother's body and the migratory bird sanctuary that has been her refuge. She skillfully keeps from dramatizing this innately powerful story. Williams had me deeply attached to pages I knew would be increasingly painful to read. Yet, as it became more painful, I would never describe it as depressing. I am struck by the powerful way she honors her mother, their family's reverent yet human journey through a particularly virulent cancer, and the ultimate power of nature, and equally important, humanity's thoughtless interference with nature, to turn one's life into a personal desert that used to be called home. She is a master storyteller and a poweful activist. This must read challenges the reader to enter a world where solutions are not simple, and life is exposed at its most vulnerable while courage and passion abound.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and unique, September 28, 2000
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This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
Rarely has the inner landscape of a person's soul been so honestly described in print. Terry Tempest Williams presents us with an intensely personal look at herself and still manages to remain the private person behind the book. This is no small feat... and the writing in "Refuge" is up to the task. This is very lyrical writing and could easily remind us of an older tradition of verbal story-telling and the passing on of history from generation to generation. Williams has a recurring theme in her work: that of being connected with and living fully in the physical earth surrounding her. "Refuge" illustrates this connection beautifully as the flooding of Great Salt Lake parallels her own journey through death in her family, her realization that these deaths were not innocent and, finally, her acceptance that she herself is looking down the barrel of a gun. Very haunting, sad in places and yet full of life, "Refuge" is a very unique way of looking at some of life's most demanding challenges. I sincerely hope that the author is able to avoid that fate which she leaves us thinking about at the end of the book and I applaud her decision to be so brave and honest with her writing. "Desert Quartet" by the same author is an absolutely priceless little book, and "Refuge" is the second book by this author I have read. I look forward to more releases from this dynamic and very relevant author.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refuge becomes a sanctuary, January 10, 2000
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
As the Great Salt Lake rose to submerge and destroy the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, grief rose and submerged Terry Tempest William's spirit with the destruction of her mother and grandmother by cancer. The gradual regeneration of the Refuge with the subsiding of the lake parallels the regeneration of her spirit and the subsiding of her grief. But the pain and the scars remain and transform. Terry is no longer an accepting trusting Mormon daughter but a searching questioning activist after her tumultuous emotional experience. One wonders if the gifts of awareness and sensitivity are worth the price of the pain endured. The Refuge becomes a sanctuary for the returning birds and Terry's returning spirit. No more moving piece has been written about the folly and ultimate tragedy of human intervention in the environment. From the nuclear testing of the 1950s to the manipulation of the level of the Great Salt Lake, there is much to learn about the long term consquences of our short sighted acts. Everyone should read and reread and pass on this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Unnatural About It; It's Sacred, October 27, 2006
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Yours Truly (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
The first time I went to Utah, I read Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" and loved it. This time, at a bookstore in Moab, I picked up Williams' "Red" for a contemporary view of the ecological issues around this gorgeous desert landscape, which is unlike any place I have been. Although I liked "Red," people told me "Refuge" was even better.

This is a very special book. I'm no birdwatcher, but it made me want to be. I'm no scientist, but I wished I were. I'm no Mormon, but it gave me respect for a religion I have never been able to fathom. Terry Tempest Williams has profound insights into the natural world. Her observations of the Great Salt Lake and the many migratory birds that visit it are as moving as her account of the death by cancer of her mother and grandmothers. Not surprisingly, they taught Williams awe of birds and sunsets and their own bodies. All of them are brave and spiritual women, and we would be wise to learn from them.

I think what I most admire about Williams as a writer is her emotional courage. Time and time again, she strikes out where more conventional writers would hesitate. She finds redeeming passages from the Book of Mormon. She follows her mother through her long and circuitous spiritual journey with cancer. She follows her grandmother as she moves into Eastern thought and modern physics. She dips respectfully into ancient Indian and Mexican culture. She walks in the desert at some peril to her well-being. She speaks of the intimacy of her marriage and about her decision not to bear children.

Yet his is not a book "about" the desert or cancer or birds or Mormonism, but about life and how it can be richly observed, experienced. shared and redeemed. It's one brave woman's answer to "Desert Solitaire."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, moving masterpiece, October 31, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Paperback)
As a professional ecologist, I came to Terry Tempest William's "Refuge" expecting yet another book about birding. Was I ever surprised! "Refuge" is an intimate tapestry of sickness, grief, and healing in both the "natural" and "human" worlds. Her love of a special place (the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the Great Salt Lake just west of Brigham City, Utah) is palpable and deeply spiritual. Terry's depiction of her family's trials is simultaneously wrenching and uplifting.
"Refuge" helped pull my grandmother out of a profound depression after the death of my grandfather, her companion of 55 years; and has carried another friend through her own mother's cancer. "Refuge" has helped me understand my own passion for places and all things natural...I feel compelled to note that all of this praise comes from a card-carrying (boot-wearing) American male. "Refuge" is a story for everyone. I've personally given away more than a dozen copies. I can't recommend it enough.
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Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams (Paperback - September 1, 1992)
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