Essay about Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams

Essay about Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams

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“My cancer is my Siberia” (93), Terry Tempest Williams’ mother concluded. In her memoir, Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams writes about her mother’s struggle with cancer. Williams’ mother comes to conclude that cancer is her Siberia after having read Tolstoy’s inspiring novel, God sees the truth, but Waits about an innocent man falsely accused of murder and sent to a prison in Siberia. I think of Siberia as bitter cold deserted tundra region. I imagine political prisoners and prison camps. Stalin’s oppressive regime lingers in my mind and a stench of death circulates the air. Similarly, I think of cancer as death and pain. Paradoxically, besides causing pain and death, Siberia and cancer lead their victims towards a place of discovery. For Williams’ mother Siberia inspires her to find “peace within [her] own isolation,” (93) which enabled her to accept her cancer. In isolated Siberia, Tempest’s mother finds healing and life.

Why is cancer her Siberia? Cancer is the Siberia within the body. The definitions of Siberia and cancer are remarkably similar. Williams quotes the definition of cancer from the Oxford English Dictionary: anything that frets, corrodes, corrupts, or consumes slowly and secretly. I quote Shumakher, a Russian poet who wrote the following verse inspired by his first impression of Siberia:

O you, bitterness, cruel stepmother, Siberia,
Your snowy steppes have spread out far and wide:
Unfriendly, unfree, deserted, hostile,
Unappealing, inhospitable and cold.

Cancer, like Siberia is “cruel,” “hostile” and it “spread[s] out far and wide” within the body. This impression of Siberia provides an insight to some of the reasons behind Williams’ mother’s conclusion.

The physical landscape of both cancer an...


... middle of paper ...


...tury. The American Historical Review, Vol.96, No.3 (Jun., 1991).763-794

Stults, Tylor. George Kennnan: Russian Specialist of the 1890’s. Russian Review, Vol.29, No. 3 (Jul., 1970): 275-285.

George, Kennan. Siberia. The Exiles’ Abode. Journal for the American Geographical Society of New York, Vol.14 (1882): 13-68.

Websites:
Van Dyke, John C. The Desert (excerpt from Chapter 2: The Make of the Desert, an article by Arid Lands Newsletter.1994)
<http://www.ag.arizona.edu/OALS/ALN/aln35/VanDyke.html>

Dyer, Kirsti A. Nature as a Therapeutic Modality: The healing qualities of nature

<http://www.journeyofhearts.org/jofh/healing/nature>

Rahimov, Ismikhan. To Liberia and Back (Life as a Political Prisoner SH-971) Azerbaijan internacional, 1999.

<http://www.azeri.org/Azeri/az_latin/latin_articles/latin_text/latin_73/eng_73/73_ismikhan.html>

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