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Finding Beauty in a Broken World (2008)

by Terry Tempest Williams

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217298,845 (3.71)6
The naturalist author of Refuge and An Unspoken Hunger reflects on what it means to be human, the interconnection between the natural and human worlds, and how they combine to produce both tumult and peace, ugliness and beauty.

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This is Terry Tempest Williams' most challenging book I've read so far. She takes a very personal narrative on global issues, relating the art of mosaics, the behavior of prairie dogs, and a visit to Rwanda to work with victims of genocide, and somehow makes it work. Yes, the prairie dogs section is repetitive and tedious, but if Williams' intent was to replicate the mundanity of this work, she succeeds.

The last part of the book, chronicling her visit to a Rwandan village, was difficult to read. There is profound suffering 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. ( )
  ghostwire | Jan 5, 2016 |
Finding Beauty in a Broken World provides a wonderful snapshot of the best and worst of life on Earth. Like many of her books, Williams weaves the chapters of her book together with a common thread. In this case the book begins and ends with an analogy comparing the study of mosaic to an understanding of our fragile human and natural world. Williams builds her case using a series of stories from around the world including her experiences in Italy, Africa, and southern Utah.

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.

Favorite Quotes
"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) ( )
  eduscapes | Jul 15, 2009 |
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These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
For Carl Bandt with my love
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The naturalist author of Refuge and An Unspoken Hunger reflects on what it means to be human, the interconnection between the natural and human worlds, and how they combine to produce both tumult and peace, ugliness and beauty.

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