Overcoming Speechlessness by Alice Walker: A Review

Overcoming Speechlessnes coverAs part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I received a copy of Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness: A poet encounters the horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel, Seven Stories Press, 2010. Paperback, 75 pages.

Here is my review as posted on LibraryThing:

A short, but moving, book illustrating the power of a gentle voice speaking the truth. Using stories of her visits to Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel, Alice Walker tries to answer the question “What has happened to humanity?”

I always think I’m prepared to read yet another story about the atrocities people do to each other, but of course, I am always amazed/ashamed anew. I was impressed by the way Walker used very short vignettes to illustrate these atrocities. In fact, the whole book reads a bit like a series of postcards, giving us a glimpse into other people’s experiences while at the same time not allowing us to remain removed from our own role, historically and/or currently, in these stories.

Even more amazing was Walker’s ability to move us beyond the atrocities to see and hear the inspiring stories of the sacrifices people have made in response to injustice done to others, seemingly unlike themselves; people who are able to see beyond difference to our shared humanity.

Finally, the stories of the survivors provides the remedy for the speechlessness of the title. In the midst of “overwhelm”, there is “Nothing to do, finally, but dance.” And speak out; find a way to voice the truth. Because “allowing freedom to others brings freedom to ourselves.” (****)

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live (cover image)

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice by Don Saliers and Emily Saliers (2005) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Book review by Lucinda DeWitt

An inspiring book about music and its ability to stir our souls. Beginning with their own stories as musicians (Emily as half of the folk-duo the Indigo Girls, Don as a well known church musician and theologian), the father-daughter Saliers explore music as a spiritual practice. Their discussion/conversation includes: the bodily and sensory experience of music, music across the lifespan, how music can bring us together as well as divide us, how music shapes our identity, music’s role in grieving, and music’s role in work for social justice. The spiritual aspect of music is woven throughout these topics; different perspectives on spirituality are included.

I truly enjoyed this book. It reminded me why I still consider myself a musician (though I rarely play anymore). I’m inspired to rediscover my own “songline,” the story of who I am as revealed through the music I love.

My only criticism is that sometimes the flow of the writing is uneven, but that is to be expected when two rather different perspectives and voices try to join together. Each individual voice is strong, but together their differences sometimes impinge on the harmony. Still, all in all, the underlying message of the song comes through.

My favorite quotation from the book: “whenever music touches us deeply, the potential for transformation exists. What we think and what we perceive about the world and about ourselves can change. What music calls to your restless heart? Where in music does your soul encounter an aspect of reality that shatters your complacency or your fear?” (p. 174-175)

Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2010 Lucinda DeWitt