Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Last month I met one of my idols. A writer that was introduced to me before I ever thought of myself as one. A woman with a multifaceted voice that comes from a landscape very different from my own but who has an outlook on family and tragedy that brought me in. When I learned that she would be at my local bookstore to read, I screamed and danced around my apartment. I realized I would get to hear her voice, reading her words, and that I might even get to speak with her. I still get sick thinking about the fact that I did.

Terry Tempest Williams
came to Porter Square Books, a small but powerhouse independent bookstore in Cambridge, MA, in late October to read from her latest publication Finding Beauty in a Broken World. TTW found her inspiration as she lost her sense of self in a post 9/11 country broken and at war:

We watched the towers collapse. We watched America choose war. The peace in our own hearts shattered. How to pick up the pieces? What to do with the pieces?

It was the “pieces” that inspired Williams to look closer at our fragmentation and the potential to not only rebuild but also for beauty. Her journey takes her to Ravenna, Italy, a town famous for its bejeweled walls, to lean the craft of mosaic and then to Bryce Canyon National Park where she studies endangered prairie dogs for two weeks day and night in what she calls an “ecological mosaic.” Her journey comes full circle when she travels to Rugerero, Rwanda, with a group called the Barefoot Artists to meet with survivors of the 1994 genocide, serving as their scribe and telling the world what many countries, including America, tried to pretend was not happening.

My main concern is that while showcasing the prairie dog for its ecological importance and complex language system (something this blogger admits being completely ignorant of), Williams loses her readers at times discussing political action and detailing her days observing the animals in excess. That is not to say, however, that this section does not hold merit, but it is difficult to get through. (TTW told attendees at the reading that her father claimed he would pay anyone $1 who could get through this portion.)

Finding Beauty in a Broken World finds its voice and journey’s purpose with the tale of the genocide survivors and their ongoing battle to rebuild their country and to find semblance in their everyday lives. There are few words to describe what these people have been through and continue to deal with. Yet there is so much hope and want for progression. Williams captures this essence describing the villagers as they work with the Barefoot Artists—a group experienced with rebuilding and uniting communities through art. Bleak, government-built houses are painted with designs from orphans and a mosaic memorial is built from rubble and overlooked material. Together they create something beautiful out of their destruction and show what humanity is capable of (good and bad).

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