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Danticat takes on an unpleasant topic with sensitivity and passion.

A guide to writing—and reading—about death.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Danticat (Claire of the Sea Light, 2013, etc.) adds to “The Art of” series with this work on how writers approach the topics of death and dying. Though the book is slim, it is overarching and broad in scope. Drawing on an array of writers, Danticat presents a wide range of approaches to death, including her own. Having written extensively about her mother’s death, for which she was present, the author lends a deeply personal touch to this study. She truly finds her stride after first surrounding readers with the almost impossible depth of her topic. Though not tied to a structure, Danticat explores the varieties of death and how each one is approached by writers. Suicide, execution, natural death, and accidental death all receive attention. Collective deaths also play a role, especially 9/11 and the Haitian earthquake of 2010. The author also examines suicide through the works of writers as diverse as Tolstoy, Faulkner, Albert Camus, Dylan Thomas, Zora Neale Hurston, Christopher Hitchens, and Toni Morrison. For executions, she shares the wisdom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a death row inmate. Regarding death as an all-encompassing end to life, she smartly draws from Gabriel García Márquez. Most movingly, Danticat brings her audience into the very private realm of her own mother’s death from cancer. She writes of the tests, the diagnosis, the decline, and the final hours and moments as her mother slipped away. Though faith and fear both come up in this book, they are not highlighted. This work is more about how death is described in literature, and the author asks if we really can describe it adequately at all.

Danticat takes on an unpleasant topic with sensitivity and passion.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-777-1

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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