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The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  809 ratings  ·  128 reviews
At once a personal account of Edwidge Danticat's mother and a deeply considered reckoning of how to write about death, The Art of Death moves outward from her mother's cancer diagnosis and sifts through Danticat's writing life. Danticat circles the many forms death takes, shifting fluidly from examples that range from Toni Morrison's Sula to Gabriel García Márquez's One Hu ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published July 11th 2017 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Thomas
Appreciated Edwidge Danticat’s honest words about grieving her mother as I go through my own grief process. In this book she intertwines some writing about losing her mother with analysis of how other writers describe death in their works. Though I found the analysis portion a bit distracting from Danticat’s writing about her mother’s passing, I liked the intelligence of her commentary as well as how she emphasized the importance of including specific detail to help readers feel more connected t ...more
Ken
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of those "tiny" books, dimension-wise, The Art of Death is a quick read. What art is there in dying, you ask? Well, Danticat is more about the literary treatment of death in all its manifestations (alone, together, by accident, by your own hand, by murderers, etc.). Thus, the book offers many allusions to writers past and present, along with edifying quotes to show what the author means.

You may think reading such a book is morbid (and certainly, people who see the cover while you're reading
...more
David Dacosta
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
It’s a monumental thing to lose your mother. Having that shared experience with Edwidge Danticat, this became an instant must read. Sure, the idea of a book, however brief, dedicated solely to the idea of death is not for everyone. But Danticat manages to keep the content elevated above the threat of dreariness through philosophical pondering, artistic analysis and personal accounts of her mother’s life and eventual passing.
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For much of The Art of Death, Danticat dons a professorial like cap,
...more
Shirleen R
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.25/5 on aesthetic narrative structural merits
5/5 - on heart. what threads these disparate chapters together, written often for varying news and magazine outlets, is that Danticat processes her mother's death of ovarian cancer. The continuity is not linear, but it's there. Danticat shares her grief and her fears, her dreams and even her mother's dreams, from diagnosis and initial chemotherapy and holistic medicine treatments until her mother's decline in hospice. She shares even the hours of he
...more
Kathleen
“It is, I learned over the course of my mother’s gradual decline, impossible to watch someone you love die and not feel the encroaching brush of death upon yourself. It’s as if death had entered the room, paused, then moved past you before laying its hands on your loved one.”

Edwidge Danticat was apart from her mother for eight years of her childhood. I cannot imagine that. I cannot separate my mother from my childhood. If there is a line between the two, I don’t understand that line. For many of
...more
Melora
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: death, memoir
A surprisingly effective combination, this is both a memoir of the author's mother's death from cancer and an examination of the way different authors whose work she likes have depicted death. Considering the portrayal of death as art allows Danticat to explore this essential subject – its dread, allure, power, and the potent force its inevitability exerts on every other aspect of human life – from a variety of angles and with useful artistic distance. This intellectually valuable coolness is ba ...more
Ellie
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very moving book on--as said in the title--death. Only some of it pertains to actually how to write about it, although in some sense, of course, the writing of the book itself describes that.

The book did make me cry. Repeatedly. And painfully aware of my own mortality. That's says a lot for the power of Danticat's writing. And there are some solid suggestions for how write "the Final Story".
Not a "how-to" book but a strong one.
...more
S.W. Gordon
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is my 8th Dandicot book and won't be my last. She is an amazing thinker and I enjoyed this all-to-brief glimpse into her mind. I'm still giggling about the "momoir" genre she mentioned. The bibliography of referenced works illustrates her vast and varied influences, and this book demonstrates her ability to synthesize and draw meaning from these disparate sources. Finding different puzzle pieces through intertexuality and assembling them into a meaningful picture seems to be common denomina ...more
Wendy G
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I felt like a grad school professor reading my student's thesis or dissertation on the art of death. There are five pages of works cited. I give it an A+. As far as pleasure reading goes, though, I'd give it a 'C'. ...more
Kristine
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I checked this book out of the library, having been disappointed by Danticat's short story collection Everything inside and thinking I had to give this very important, clearly talented writer another chance, in another genre - but not quite willing to spend money again. After about 25 pages, I returned the library book and bought my own copy so I could highlight, write in margins, take notes inside the front cover, and in all ways have a conversation with this very engaging thinker.

She is well-
...more
Nina
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is part of “The Art of” series for writers. Danticat explores how death has been written about in fiction and non-fiction, using many examples from classic and contemporary literature. She shares her experience of her mother’s death to explore culture, ritual, and expectations surrounding death. I find it fascinating that death scenes from literature are referred to as well as accounts from memoirs of facing one’s own or a loved one’s death. This is certainly not a clinical, dry accoun ...more
T.M.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-favorites
I read this book in one day, in one sitting (punctuated by the living tasks of eating and such), feeling less like I was reading a memoir (or a piece of literary criticism) and more like I was sitting across the table from Danticat, listening to her discuss her death with the sort of casual-but-seriousness that one adopts during a particularly lively discussion following dinner (and I wound up adding quite a lot of books that depict death to my Amazon shopping cart). I'm the kind of person for w ...more
N.K. Layne
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
I read The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story while I was working on my own essay about maternal death. This was somewhat serendipitously as I wasn’t in the SoHo bookstore searching for inspiration. I was only killing time. Using the air conditioned space, lingering as I was waiting for my dinner plans to text me.

Only an hour earlier, I had finished a therapy appointment, leaving me scattered and narcissistic. So obsessed with my own deficiencies, I lacked energy to connect to the tomes surr
...more
Alina Borger
Danticat is brilliant and takes us on a tour of literary death that is nonpareil, examining death, suicide, and near-death with a lens both personal and extremely literary (heavy on Morrison and Hurston, and justufiably so). She tells us what great art does to bring death near and to keep it at bay, and her insight is some of the best craft advice I could have gotten writing a book whose protagonist lost her mom and is losing her dad.

But it is the final chapters of this book in which she begins
...more
Jason
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books I’ve read this year, part memoir, part literary criticism, all heart and mind and soul. Danticat examines the ways we think and write and feel about death in light of her mother’s death.
Rita Ciresi
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wise advice from the immensely talented Edwidge Danticat on how she and other fiction/nonfiction writers have approached writing about the final journey. I'm looking forward to discussing this in my Illness Narratives class this fall. ...more
Danita Berg
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
4/5: While not my favorite Danticat book (perhaps because she was restricted by the nature of Greywolf's "The Art of" Series), The Art of Death made some excellent correlations about death, and about several authors' writing about the same. The last chapter, "Circles and Circles of Sorrow," is easily my favorite and not an easy read, where Danticat relates the story of her mother's death. I ended up dog-earing nine pages for later reference. It would be a good book for someone who is writing abo ...more
Cat
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
i want to read all of her other books and all the books she mentions that i haven't read ...more
Louise
May 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Part memoir, part analysis of death in literature. I preferred the memoir parts.
Patricia Burgess
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Danticat explores death, how people die, their experiences between life and death, the “dying livingly,” leading up to her experience as her mother dies. Beautifully written with references to Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison, the Bible, and other books and writings that reference death. How does one die? In pain, surrounded by family, alone, scared, relieved?)
Sue
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in death, or writing, or writing about death, this book is for you. I bought it not knowing that it was geared towards writing but it was very interesting and helpful during the grieving process. Made me want to read the author's fiction books and tons of the books she references throughout this book. ...more
drowningmermaid
Aug 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
In some ways more of a composite of all the reading Danticat has done on death during and since her mother's passing. But it is about the acceptance of mortality, and love that endures. ...more
Marc Nash
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure how to review this. I disagree with so much of it, particularly its focus on the death of others (bereavement, grief) about which much literature already exists (some of which this provides a lit crit of); nowhere, even on the chapter devoted to suicide, is there anything about one's own death. As in writing one's own death as an author. But then one can't really criticise a book for what it is not.

I give it 4 stars because it has stimulated a lot of thought for me, possibly even a
...more
Tara Hun-Dorris
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had the recent privilege of listening to the author speak at UNC. In this book, she magically weaves her processing of her mother’s death with death in literature and other writing. It is lyrical, reflective & Dad & ultimately provides a good perspective on the gift of life, even with all its anguish & loss.
Cathy
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As someone who reads and writes about death and illness, I found this book interesting and moving.The book is one in a craft series, and Danticat shows how different writers write about different types of death. She provides many passages explaining how they, and the reader process and understand death. These examples are relevant and even moving.

Danticat's personal stories about the deaths of her loved ones and especially her mother who is a dying of ovarian cancer, are particularly poignant a
...more
Lisa
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like this "Art of" series a lot—they're always thought-provoking, both in terms of writing and life in general, and add a bunch of books to my wish list (which is always a good thing). This one is no exception. Danticat does a good job with the subject, meditating on death and dying and their depictions in literature—well woven together and not maudlin or overly sentimental. ...more
B. Blythe
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I confess at the outset that I was careless in purchasing Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death. I’m a writer, but I’m also an unapologetic dork: it was the Saturday of AWP in Tampa and I was looking for a book to justify my time trundling between lit mag desks and arthouse book displays. It didn’t have to be a craft book, but the cover jumped out at me.

The Art of DEATH, in all caps, with a sub-header about “Writing the Final Story.”

Book cover cliches be damned; how could I ever not buy that? Ho
...more
M.C. Easton
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful memoir of grief after a mother’s death. And because writing is at the core of Danticat’s experience of her grief, it’s also a concise compendium of the literature that has helped her approach and make sense of death and grief. The passages where Danticat examines Toni Morrison’s or Gabriel García Márquez’s portrayals of death are rich, packed with the stylistic insights of a woman who is not only a master writer but also a master reader.

She quotes García Márquez as he explai
...more
Nancy
This was one of the "texts" from the Morbity and Mortality class that I am taking at the library. Excerpts from the book were read in class and I wanted to read the entire book. It is a slim volume and it didn't take long to read. It is primarily the author's reaction to her mother's death, but she references a number of other writings, some fiction, some non-fiction, some I have read, others that I have not, some I want to read, others that don't really interest me. Danticat has a succint writi ...more
Ming
Aug 09, 2017 rated it liked it
A few favorite quotes:

"I don't know much about my mother's childhood because she never liked to talk about it. The fact that I know so little about her early life means that I will not be able to fully reconstruct her on the page. But I have already created fictional versions of my mother, taking the bits I know and morphing them into different women, some who are like I imagined her to be, some who are like I wanted her to be, and others who represent the worst-case scenarios, the worst mother
...more
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Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beac ...more

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“Perhaps Hurston saw in her mother, Lucy, a version of Persephone, who is so missed when she's gone that the world literally starts to die. This type of grief, as Toni Morrison writes in Sula, has no top and no bottom, "just circles and circles of sorrow.” 3 likes
“There's no such thing as simple mourning for anyone, really, except that as writers our grief becomes woven into the fabric of our work as well as into our source material.” 3 likes
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