Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2005 at 12:40 pm under Memoir/Journal, Nonfiction

Title:Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place
Author:Terry Tempest Williams

Why I liked this book:This very personal book relates the parallel stories, during the mid-1980s, of the rise and fall of Great Salt Lake and the sickness and death of the author’s mother and grandmother. It is a telling full of anguish – and ultimately anger at the abuse of our environment and at betrayed trust. She asks, why should there be such destruction and pain? Is this just nature at work? Are we responsible for any of it? These are questions worth asking, but given the author’s immediate personal distress I’m not sure they get the most helpful answers.

Williams is constantly drawing connections between her personal sorrows and the greater world. This method of analysis is problematic. One feels that if her life were joyous, the earth would look radiant and healthy. “Trust your feeling. I have trusted mine.” her mother tells her. Is this really good advice? I’ve found that it’s often better to distrust your feelings – to look for the real motivation behind why you feel a certain way.

On the political side, the author does remind us how difficult it is for a rural area to resist being sacrificed for a national objective. Much if Utah is “downwind” of where much nuclear testing was done. This area, described as “virtually uninhabited” still did have many “virtual uninhabitants” – as they wryly refer to themselves. They believe they continue to suffer the effects of those years of testing. The author makes a good case that our wanton destruction of the environment is more than just ill-advised – it is killing us.

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