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Finding Beauty in a Broken World Paperback – October 6, 2009
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“An amalgam of art, intellect, ecology and spirit. . . . Moving. . . . Terry Tempest Williams’s tools are words, ideas, sentences, fragments. . . . She uses them to dig into chosen corners of our world, and to illuminate some unknowns in flickering light.” –The Washington Times
“Sublime art. . . . An ambitious, even audacious, work.” –The Denver Post
“Intense, tough, profound. . . . This is an ambitious, risk-taking book that defies narrative conventions and avoids signpost solutions. Yet it also prompts reflection, inspiration, and awe. . . . A resounding hymn to creativity, community and engagement.” –Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Williams is an ecosystem writer–concepts in her world are joined together by physical and spiritual threads... Finding Beauty in a Broken World offers its answers in fragments, pieces–as a mosaic must…. And yet there is always beauty.” –Los Angeles Times
“Wonderfully descriptive.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“In Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Williams discovers her way along a path that, though at times obscured, leads to an unlikely yet inspired destination. . . . Will stir and reward.” –The Oregonian
“[Finding Beauty in a Broken World] explores deeper and more lyrical territory than other books along the same theme.” –Arizona Daily Sun
“Part postmodern memoir, part historical inquiry, part cultural critique and part spiritual meditation.” –The Salt Lake Tribune
“This is an essential book. . . . Nonfiction in [Williams’s] hands is literature.” –The Bloomsbury Review
“Terry Tempest Williams has half-broken my heart with everything she has written. . . . Finding Beauty in a Broken World will break your heart and put it back together again. It is as powerful in its experiment with form as it is in meaning.” –Bill McKibben
“Williams’s affecting prose, written with the skill and economy of a poet, enlivens [Finding Beauty in a Broken World].” –Real Change
“Poignant. . . . Filled with the emotional honesty and grace that we’ve come to expect from Williams.” –High Country News
“Wide awake, utterly open, completely feeling. . . . Williams
presents us with an incredible achievement, a beautiful, terrible, wonderful, hopeful witness. The farthest thing from insanity I’ve read.” –Alexandra Fuller, author of The Legend of Colton H. Bryant
“Williams knows the earth and writes about it with native intimacy, no matter the setting or continent.” –Metro Santa Cruz
“Passionate. . . . [Finding Beauty in a Broken World] will not leave the reader with the thought ‘all is well’ but with the challenged belief that the beauty in all life can be–and must be–identified, believed in and brought forth.” –New Thought
“Behave with dignity. . . . Take the broken pieces you are given and find the new harmony that holds your future. When you finish Finding Beauty in a Broken World you will look at the landscape of your own life with new eyes.” –Blogcritics magazine
“How a book could be this gentle and this heartbreaking simultaneously I do not know. . . . Terry Tempest Williams leads us with methodical accuracy into the devastations and delights of now.” –John D’Agata, author of Halls of Fame
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Individually, the two main stories (the initial mosaic story is little more than an introduction) are interesting, and, perhaps because I am a biologist myself, I found the prairie dog story very interesting. They just don't work as a combination.
Also quite jarring is that like in most of Terry's books, she is very sloppy with bird names, which is surprising for someone who is working so closely with nature, and who actually takes pains to name birds to species level in her books. But did she really see a ruby-throated hummingbird in Bryce, or was that a broad-tailed (which also has a ruby throat), given that the former is extremely rare in Utah and the other is ubiquitous? She misspells "trogon" for "trogan", and not in the wildest imagination can the call of a wagtail be called a "song" (I believe she calls it soothing or something as well). Either these birds are misidentified, or her field notes are just confused. Either way, it doesn't speak well for someone talking so much about the environment and wild animals and location to make these mistakes. That, together with the lack of cohesion in this book, lowers my opinion of it.
Although I enjoyed her overall approach, Williams is most at home when sharing her love of the natural world in southern Utah. I would have been happy if the book had simply focused on her experiences with the prairie dogs in Bryce Canyon. It reminded me of watching episodes of Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet. I wanted to keep reading about the prairie dog clans and her experiences as a volunteer. Her studies made me want to learn more about the hummingbirds that live in the Pinion Pines and Utah Juniper outside my kitchen window.
I can tell Terry Tempest Williams enjoys traveling the world, but I encourage her to focus on the needs and issues that impact the American southwest. Living in southern Utah myself, I feel connected to her descriptions and experiences.
Although I enjoyed this book, I'm hoping that future works will revisit the place-based approach I loved in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert. I'd love a book that provides insights into the wide range of endangered plants and animals of our area. Prairie dogs are just the beginning.
"We have forgotten the virtue of sitting, watching, observing. Nothing much happens. This is the way of nature. We breathe together. Simply this. For long periods of time, the meadow is still. We watch. We wait. We wonder. Our eyes find a resting place. And then, the slightest of breezes moves the grass. It can be heard as a whispered prayer." (p. 196)
"Much of our world now is a fabrication, a fiction, a manufactured and manipulated time-lapsed piece of filmmaking where a rose no longer unfolds but bursts. Speed is the buzz, the blur, the drug. Life out of focus becomes our way of seeing. We no longer expect clarity. The lenses of perception and perspective have been replaced by speed, motion. We don't know how to stop. The information we value is retrieved, never internalized." (p. 196)
"There are long skeins of time when I feel so confused and lost in this broken world of our own making. I don't know who we have become or what to believe or whom to trust. In the presence of prairie dogs, I feel calm, safe, and reassured, sensing there is something more enduring than our own minds. I feel a peace that holds my heart, not because I believe this is better than the world we have created. I feel at peace because the memory of wild nature is held within the nucleus of each living cell. Our bodies remember wholeness in the midst of fragmentation." (p. 198)
"Clay-colored monks dressed in discreet robes of fur stand as sentinels outside their burrows, watching, watching as their communities disappear, one by one, their hands raised up in prayer." (p. 205)
The last part of the book, chronicling her visit to a Rwandan village, was difficult to read. There is profound suffering, trauma and an overall sense of defeat and unending sorrow. Yet Williams renders her very personal journey within a universal context of finding the ability to survive and the will to mend this broken world.
Williams' writing is profoundly compassionate, erudite, and visceral. Finding Beauty in a Broken World is a deeply human book. Hers is a voice that should, and needs, to be heard, recognized, and celebrated.