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The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  504 ratings  ·  87 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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4.14  · 
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 ·  504 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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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
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.
For much of The Art of Death, Danticat dons a professorial like cap,
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
“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
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
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.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, deeply moving resource for writers who wish to write about death and dying.
Wendy Golding
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'.
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
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
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
Alina Borger
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Katherine Varga
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, healthy-village

Danticat frames this book with chapters about her mother's death, and uses the chapters in between to discuss various angles of death (including mass deaths, suicide, capital punishment, and near-death experiences) as seen in literature. Much of the book is close readings of excerpts from either authors I admire (like Toni Morrison) or authors I've never heard of who sound intriguing (like Chitra Divakaruni). It's a HEAVY read, but when taken in small doses, quite interesting and moving.

She m
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.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
i want to read all of her other books and all the books she mentions that i haven't read
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
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?)
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.
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.
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
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 an
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
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
Ellyn Lem
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
As someone who has appreciated Danticat's novels, often about her native Haiti, and someone who teaches a course on death, I anticipated this short book, which touches on many of the writers who are in my death course, Christopher Hitchens, Leo Tolstoy, Joan Didion, C.S. Lewis and Susan Sontag. While I agree with one review I read of the book that Danticat almost quotes too much from her sources and does not put enough of her own insights onto the page, there are still some precious components o ...more
We're all carrying our coffins with us every day.

This book was nothing short of beautiful. The telling shifts back-and-forth, zig-zagging, wanderingly between Danticat's own recollections of her mother's death and the deaths of her father and others she has held dear - including the few times she herself has nearly died - to passages not just from books about death and dying, as in The Death of Ivan Ilyich and indeed many of Tolstoy's works and collections like Murakami's After the Quake but to
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To paraphrase an old quote about politics, "you might not be interested in death, but Death is very interested in you." There doesn't seem to be any getting away from it. We don't want to think about it, but kudos to Ms. Danticat for tackling the subject head on. Writers shouldn't be scared away from any topic, and she sure isn't.

The book takes you through the decline and death of Danticat's mother, but this narrative is split in two. Between the two parts is a section on how death is dealt with
Phi Beta Kappa Authors
Edwidge Danticat
ΦBK, Barnard College, 1990

Shortlisted for the ΦBK Christian Gauss Award, 2018

From the publisher: A moving reflection on a subject that touches us all, by the bestselling author of Claire of the Sea Light.

Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story is at once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that other writers have approached death in their own work. “Writing has been the primary way I have tr
Sandy Brusin
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think the audience for this collection of essays is probably others writers like Edwidge Danticat in that she shares and discusses remarkable passages from authors like Toni Morrison, Albert Camus, Joan Didion, William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Thornton Wilder among others who make death real even though we can't really "know" death until we die. Danticat's analysis offers those who would try to write about this instruction and purpose. As Toni Morrison says: "We die. That may be t ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
“Nou tout ap mache ak sèkèy nou anba bra nou,” my mother had been casually saying for years. “We’re all carrying our coffins with us every day.” Or, “We are all constantly cheating death, ” which is how I usually translated that Creole phrase to my mother’s doctors and nurses whenever she asked me to, usually after they tried to reassure her, during some agonizing diagnostic test or another debilitating chemotherapy session for her stage IV ovarian cancer, that everything was going to be okay. “ ...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
“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.” 2 likes
“Hearing, they say, is one of the last senses to go. My mother smiled. I tearfully asked her, "Mommy, can you see heaven?" She smiled again. Then she was gone. There was no death rattle, no sudden in-breath or out-breath. She simply stopped breathing. She smiled and slipped away. Smiling while dying is apparently not that unusual. The body tries to produce a state of euphoria to usher us out. It releases the same kinds of neurochemicals, dopamine and serotonin, that flood our brains as we are falling in love.” 2 likes
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