- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (February 26, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250024110
- ISBN-13: 978-1250024114
- Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 0.7 x 7.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 214 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice Paperback – February 26, 2013
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“Williams displays a Whitmanesque embrace of the world and its contradictions....As the pages accumulate, her voice grows in majesty and power until it become a full-fledged aria.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“This poetic memoir continues the work Williams began in Refuge....Williams explores her mother's identity--woman, wife, mother, and Mormon--as she continues to honor her memory....A lyrical and elliptical meditation on women, nature, family, and history.” ―The Boston Globe
“Williams is the kind of writer who makes a reader feel that [her] voice might also, one day, be heard….She cancels out isolation: Connections are woven as you sit in your chair reading---between you and the place you live, between you and other readers, you and the writer. Without knowing how it happened, your sense of home is deepened.” ―Susan Salter Reynolds, The Daily Beast
“Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages….When Women Were Birds is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice--passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us--will reverberate differently in each inner ear.” ―The Seattle Times
“A beautiful, powerful, important book….Nothing I've ever read has done this to me. Is this what religious people feel when they pray, I wonder? ...Terry Tempest Williams has written something that has revealed me and affirmed me and changed me. In sharing her voice, she has summoned mine.” ―Rebecca Joines Schinsky, Book Riot
“In some ways When Women Were Birds functions as a detective story, an attempt to solve a mystery. But it's also a realization that often there are no answers…there's only the present.” ―The Salt Lake Tribune
“A lyrical, timeless book that rewards quiet, attentive reading--a rare thing.” ―The Huffington Post
“At some point I realized I was reading every page twice trying to memorize each insight, each bit of hard-won wisdom. Then I realized I could keep it on my bedside table and read it every night.” ―Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
About the Author
Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge, and, most recently, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. She divides her time between Castle Valley, Utah, and Moose, Wyoming.
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Although it is presented with numbered chapters, its eclectic content reads like a journal. And I wish it had been called so. When Women Were Birds, A Journal by Terry Tempest Williams. Or: When Women Were Birds, A Mind Voyage by Terry Tempest Williams. When Women Were Birds, Fifty-Four Variations on Voice leads to confusion. I'll tell you why in a moment.
Here and there, Williams attempts to unify the book with two basic themes: giving women a voice; extracting the meaning of her mother's empty journals. In her attempts to give women a voice, she fails because that's not what the book is about. Furthermore, these returns, as in the recapitulations from the movements of a sonata (and she refers to music as well), are occasionally discordant. Her variations are not so much variations as they are separations.
This is a book not so much about giving a voice to others as it is about re-defining one's own. Her own. In her attempt to fill out her mother's blank pages, to give these pages a reason to be, she has spent time in the desert, somewhat lost. This is a book about seeking, not finding. We all face empty pages, existential pain. And Birds is ultimately a treaty about existential pain--albeit accompanied with a very real, brain related angst, as the author explains. Even the title reflects a wound, a damaged --or broken?--wing.
Although the prose is in itself highly pleasurable as well as profound for the most part, I wouldn't recommend this to the confused person trying to find her way and her voice, for this might confuse her further. Like the bird who skips here and there, flies from one tree to the next, sings now and stays quiet a minute later, the writing is graceful, beautiful scattering. But it is still scattering.
We were instructed to seek out the first edition of the hard copy, because it is the only one with the little birds on the outer margins of facing pages. As a symbol of her subject, it is charming and spot on. When you ruffle the pages, the little birds take wing. Just like this book.