Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams + Giveaway

Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams + Giveaway

Title: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Author: Terry Tempest Williams
Pages: 314
Originally Published: 1991
Format I Read: Paperback (10th Anniversary)
Publisher: Vintage
Rating: [rating:4]


In preparation for Utah Book Month, I spent a lot of time researching Utah authors. Terry Tempest Williams is an author that I had heard of, though I had not read any of her works. I went ahead and ordered a copy of Refuge in early May. Around the same time, I contacted Ms. Williams to request that she participate in Utah Book Month by being interviewed. She consented, and, to prepare for the interview, I read both Refuge and her latest book, When Women Were Birds. I loved them both.

Refuge in a lot of ways defies categorization. It is a personal memoir of the illness and death of Williams’s mother from cancer. It is a history of the flooding of the Great Salt Lake and the damage to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, which also makes it a nature book. It examines the feminine enough to make it a women’s studies work. But really, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

I was initially hesitant to read Refuge, since memoirs and nature books are not my usual fare. But I needn’t have worried. I loved this book. It is beautiful and melancholy and hopeful. My copy is dogeared throughout. But when it came time to pull out some of those favorite parts to share with you, I found that many of them were personal to my own reading experience. Reading this book was a very personal experience.

While I have not had to face the deaths of so many of my loved ones like Williams, I do share many traits with her. I am a Mormon woman. I have a career. I live in Utah near the Great Salt Lake. And her thoughts on these subjects sustained and instructed me.

Here are a few quotes I particularly liked:

We are no more and no less than the life that surrounds us. My fears surface in my isolation. My serenity surfaces in my solitude. (29)

In Mormon religion, formal blessings of healing are given by men through the Priesthood of God. Women have no outward authority. But within the secrecy of sisterhood we have always bestowed benisons upon our families. (158)

I am slowly, painfully discovering that my refuge is not found in my mother, my grandmother, or even the birds of Bear River. My refuge exists in my capacity to love. If I can learn to love death then I can begin to find refuge in change. (178)

This isn’t a perfect book. There are times when the language became too fanciful for me. And I struggled through some of the nature scenes, since I have little to no background with it. But these are very minor concerns. I learned so much about the Great Salt Lake and the natural heritage of Utah. I learned a great deal about grief. And I learned much about myself. I highly recommend this book.

Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams [rating:4]

Watch for my interview of Terry Tempest Williams next week.

GIVEAWAY. I have one extra copy of Refuge. And I’m going to give it away to one lucky reader. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post. Earn an additional entry by leaving a comment on my review of When Women Were Birds. U.S. and Canadian addresses only please. I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

*Update: GIVEAWAY CLOSED. Winner announced here.