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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations…

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

by Terry Tempest Williams

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This is a wonderful, poetical, lyrical, highly personal book. You have to take the author where she is, while she tries to fathom who her departed mother was. What does one make of a pile of journals (left to the next generation) empty? Was this a voice frozen or free? This book talks about parents and children and legacy, meeting or missing. An overarching message is that when we realize we really cannot fully know someone else, we started thinking about what we know of ourselves. Ultimately, this book is thought provoking, and whether this was one of the author's intentions or not, it can certainly provide a valuable (non-didactic) stimulus to anyone who wants to sit in a guided (by reading) meditation on family and other relationships. ( )
  qoe | May 18, 2016 |
Re-read 7/9/2015 ( )
  rivercityreading | Aug 10, 2015 |
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams; Library; R/L bookclub; (2 1/2*)

This is a tough one for me to review.

On the one hand I enjoyed most of the writing. But on the other hand I found Williams to be quite tiresome at times.

The book is a memoir (could have/should have been a journal) and I think a tribute to the mother of the author who died of cancer in her 50s. The family is Mormon and it is the duty of the women in this culture to keep a journal throughout their lives while the men write the story of their own lives.
Williams' mother left to her the entirety of her journals, not to be read until after her demise. When, upon her mother's death, the author went to find the journals she found three shelves filled with beautifully cloth bound journals and not ONE single word in any one of them.
This narrative has been written to show women and especially Mormon women their voice. It is written with beautiful, flowery prose which at times is meaningful but at other times seems to just be pretty words upon the page. Throughout the book the author throws labels of her mother's journals in sporadically.

"My Mother's Journal's are paper cranes."

""I belong to a Clan of One-breasted Women." These words flew out of my mind after a friend simply asked, "How are you?" I could not know then what I know now, that this image allowed me to see the women in my family as warriors, not victims of breast cancer. Twenty-two years later, these words, this image, "When Women Were Birds," came to me in a dream without explanation."
"Were We?"
"Are we still?"
"Or are we in motion, never to be caught? We remain elusive by choice.
"I am a woman with wings," I once wrote and will revise these words again. "I am a woman with wings dancing with other women with wings.""

"In a voiced community, we all flourish."

I kept waiting to find something of real depth between this small book's covers but alas, it was not to be. I did enjoy the book simply for the words that I found lovely and have decided to ignore the rest. I think that had this not been a book chosen for my R/L bookclub, I would not have read it. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Oct 12, 2014 |
Beautiful and moving. I found myself rereading sections so that I could chew on them later. ( )
1 vote staciec | Feb 19, 2014 |
When Women Were Birds, is a slim lyrical meditation, about writing, about loss of a mother, about change in mid-life. The author, an ex-Morman, deals with the death of her mother, by focusing on what she has left behind -- blank journals, and what this means in a philosophical sense. Why hasn't her mother filled these journals -- a mandate for every Morman woman-- what did this mean to her, and know what does it mean for them to be left to her daughter, a writer. I read this book on a train trip, and it was the perfect book to go in and out of as the train lurched through the ice and snow from DC to New York. It was probably the only way I could have read a mournful book like this ... Caroline

PS look for BEFORE MY EYES...2.11.14 ( )
  cabockwrites | Jan 29, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374288976, Hardcover)

The beloved author of Refuge returns with a work that explodes and startles, illuminates and celebrates

Terry Tempest Williams’s mother told her: “I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.”

Readers of Williams’s iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them.  

“They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books . . . I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty . . . Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother’s journals were blank.” What did Williams’s mother mean by that? In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question “What does it mean to have a voice?”


Note: blank pages are intentional.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:32 -0400)

In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams (beloved author of "Refuge") creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals .. and what it means to have a voice beyond a selfless existence informed by children and a husband.… (more)

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