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Lee Zacharias

The Only Sounds We Make

Book cover for The Only Sounds We Make

Fascinated by the natural world, Lee Zacharias turns to creatures whose language we cannot fathom, from spiders to vultures to dogs, and the mute record of the land through time, to explore the powers of speech and memory. These twelve deeply metaphorical essays are both intensely personal and vitally concerned with the larger world, including the kingdom beyond our ken.

Exploring subjects as diverse as her father's suicide, the great migration that changed the racial composition of Chicago's south side, the nature of light, and the geology of the Grand Canyon, Lee Zacharias writes with grace and precision. These essays illuminate the experiences that shape our humanity and our relationships, to our parents, to our children, and to past, present, and future.


  • Winner of a Silver Medal in Creative Nonfiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (the IPPYs)
  • "Buzzards" won Southern Humanity Review's Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award and was reprinted in The Best American Essays 2008.
  • "A Grand Canyon" won Prairie Schooner's Glenna Luschei Award
  • "In the Garden of the Word," "The End of Counterculture," "Geography for Writers," "A House in Florida," "A Stone's Weight," and "A Grand Canyon" were all named Notable Essays of the year by volumes in The Best American Essays series.


With grace, charm, and insight, Zacharias shares personal stories that explore how we make sense of memory, our histories, and our connections—to family, the past, and the wider world… Readers will be drawn into Zacharias's world, which she studies with candor and grace.

Publishers Weekly

Zacharias shows a keen eye for detail…, a strong sense of pace, and an ambivalent, unsentimental examination of blood ties and family legacy.

Kirkus Reviews

Zacharias… brings a pair of vital skills to the enterprise of essay writing: she notices, and she remembers. These skills are invaluable to any writer, but especially to the creator of the kind of deeply personal essays Zacharias has produced in this collection. When noticing and remembering are fused, as they are here, they can breathe life into anything, from the most intimate moments to the most cosmic subjects… She has published a splendid book of essays.

Bill Morris, The Millions

Excerpt, "Buzzards"

To see a turkey vulture up close is to know the bird's tragic beauty, for there is a majesty to the crimson head, bare save for a sparse black stubble; the bird looks less vulnerable than shorn, a Nazi collaborator exposed before a French village. The raised nostrils have no internal division; they are like the space left by a handle, the eye of a bloody needle of bone. All the vilification and fear the vulture inspires seem contained in the sidelong wary sadness of the eye, not the sharp black stare of an eagle or a heron's mean pupil in its fixed yellow ring, but a doleful attention that is the same soft shade of brown as my dog's. The bird's muteness sits upon its shoulders. It knows what death tastes like but cannot speak of the flavor. To see a turkey vulture up close is to be reminded of death, not as portent but as the weight of an unbearable witness. His dirge has no throat, his wisdom no voice. Two million years of silence haunt his expression. To see a turkey vulture up close is to know what loneliness looks like.


Goodreads reviews for The Only Sounds We Make

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