Book review: 'When Women Were Birds' is an autobiographical reflections on power of voice

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

"When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice," by Terry Tempest Williams, Sarah Crichton Books, $23, 208 pages (nf)

“When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice,” by Terry Tempest Williams, is a study of the power of voice and offers the author’s reflections and response to a mystery.

Williams’ mother died at age 54 of ovarian cancer. She left her journals to her only daughter, extracting from her a promise that the journals not be read until she died.

After her mother’s death, Williams eagerly approached three shelves of her mother’s journals. “I opened the first journal,” she writes. “It was empty — shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mothers’ journals were blank.”

An autobiographical study in silence and sound, Williams wrote the book when she was 54 — the same age her mother was when she died.

Through metaphor, using birds and wilderness, Williams gives voice to her musings in 54 short sections. Poetically and passionately written, the words flow, flutter and sometimes come to a complete stop on the page. A few of the pages are blank — like her mother’s journals.

Williams was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and refers to the influence it was in her life. Allusions are also made to a woman’s physical cycle and lovemaking.

A Utah native and environmental activist, Williams also wrote “Refuge,” a book that has been compared in its significance to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

If you go ...

What: Terry Tempest Williams book reading and signing

When: Tuesday, June 12, 10:30 a.m.

Where: University of Utah, Annette P. Cumming College of Nursing, 30 N. 1900 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, www.coyoteclan.com

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at www.dramaticdimensions.com.

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