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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

1 rating: 5.0
A non-fiction book by Terry Tempest Williams
1 review about When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations...

Lyrical, meaningful, full of feeling

  • Apr 27, 2012
  • by
I kept seeing this book on a list of books offered to me; I was intrigued by the title, but ultimately would pass it by for something I thought more of a "sure thing." But it would not leave me be--it kept calling to me. Finally, I listened. Having never read anything by Terry Tempest Williams, I wasn't sure what was in store for me when I chose a book about women being birds. I could not have known then what a revelation this book would turn out to be. How I would savor its words and ponder its meaning. How I would hold on to its last pages, wanting to finish it so I could review it and tell others about it, but not wanting to let it go.

This book is non-fiction. One could call it a memoir, but I think that is too limiting for a book that has such potential to touch lives. It is no spoiler to tell you the basic premise, as it is listed under the book description: While her mother is dying, she tells Terry that she is leaving Terry her journals but that they are not to be opened until she has passed. After her mother passes, Terry pulls the first journal off the shelf to find that every page is blank. And the next journal is the same, and so on and so on...shelves of empty journals.

This book is Terry's way of trying to make sense of why her mother would tell her about the journals when there was nothing in them. The author explains that, in the Mormon tradition, a woman is supposed to write in a journal every day and then pass her journals onto her daughter. Were the empty journals an act of defiance? Independence? Sadness?

This book is beautifully written. There were passages I just wanted to roll in, to soak up the feeling and talent in them. A book about one's mother dying and trying to figure out why she left empty journals is not going to be a HAPPY book, this is true, but it never descends into sappy, sobbing storytelling. I think anyone, but especially women, could gain insight, comfort and inspiration from this book, which is why I don't want to limit it by calling it a memoir.

If you are looking for a light beach read, this is not it. If you don't like to delve into human emotions or think deep thoughts, this isn't for you either. This is not so much a book you read as one you participate in. I do think there are a lot of people to whom this book will speak. I'm certainly one of them.

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