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Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  940 ratings  ·  121 reviews
At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year o ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 23rd 2010 by Da Capo Press (first published March 9th 2010)
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Petra-X Off having adventures
I finished the book, and I've changed my mind completely about it. The book delved a great deal deeper into the funeral business than I had initially thought it would, taking as a starting point, Jessica Mitford's seminal, The American Way of Death. The extremely distasteful aspect of gouging money out of people's desire to their best for their late loved one and to assuage their grief by shopping that so disgusted Mitford, hasn't changed.

People who buy a 'pre-need' policy to cover their funera
There are only two certain things in this world, so the saying goes, death and taxes. But what happens to us after we die but before we reach our final resting place, wherever that may be? What happens to our bodies in the hands of undertakers and funeral directors? That's what Tom Jokinen, a CBC radio producer from Winnipeg, set out to discover when he took a leave of absence to apprentice in a local funeral home/crematorium.

The opening chapters of the book discuss, as you might expect, Jokinen
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book! Starts out laugh-out-loud funny in the vein of offbeat novelists like Bill Bryson or Carl Hiassen, then transforms into an in-depth look at the funeral industry and the salesmen who work in it and how they ply their trade, then finishes with metaphysical musings on alternative ways to look at death. I think the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book should be required reading for everyone (everyone who plans on dying someday), and the last part of the book is well worth the effor ...more
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Tom Jokinen took a job as a paid intern for an undertaker in Winnipeg, Canada. In this book, Jokinen details the process that takes place between death and the final disposition of human remains. The result is a sometimes humorous, yet fascinating glimpse into the profession of undertakers as they strive to give meaning to life and death in our society with its diverse and continually changing attitudes. A very worthwhile read!
Erin Lee
Informative but slow. I wanted more of a story line with this book. I did love the authors humor.
Jun 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training, Tom Jokinen takes us behind the scenes of the funeral home business. He presents the options, the various traditions, the embalming, the burial, some of the history and much more. It's all there. No more wondering what goes on behind all of those curtains. Jokinen wrote this book after being an apprentice undertaker at a Winnipeg funeral home.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. The only creepy thing about it was the fact that I enjoy
Sue Smith
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know, death isn't funny. It isn't supposed to be funny. And it is something we all have to address at some time in our life, whether through the deaths of family or friends or one's own pending doom. But this book was - well - funny! Trully looking at the whole scheme of things at the end of ones's life before you're trying to deal with it all and your emotions, is not a bad thing to do. Especially with a dose of funny. (And isn't that what Mary Poppins says to do - a spoonful of sugar helps ...more
Katie Wojtowicz
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was interesting. It definitely gave me a different outlook on death and the funeral industry. I was disappointed however that the author focused the majority of the book on the struggles of the funeral business. I was expecting more "adventures" so to speak. ...more
What happens behind the scenes when someone dies until they “appear” at the funeral? The author looks at this, in addition to the business of being an undertaker, in all the historical changes – from burial to cremation… and still to come, green burials. He works with a family funeral home in Winnipeg where he learns all the different aspects of the business. He also heads to California, where he learns more about green burials (at the time of writing – this was published in 2010 – in Canada, th ...more
Sharanya Subramaniam
DNF at about the last third of the book. Will probably finish if I get back to it soon.
May 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
'Curtains' by Tom Jokinen is a very engrossing book. I had read Jessica Mitford's 'American Way of Death' in 1987 and wondered what more could he say. He covered some subjects that were not in Jessica Mitford's book and I felt that learned a lot.

Tom Jokinen quit his job as a radio producer to find out what it is like to be an undertaker in training. The two first things that he learned were:

1. Make sure that you are picking up the right body at the "silver doors". They were silver; the doors to
Peter Roach
Apr 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone over 40
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sally Kilpatrick
Apr 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Spoiler alert: this isn't exactly the feel good book of the year. (Please don't flag me, Goodreads, I'm not really spoiling anything. It's nonfiction.) I can't seem to like this book as much as I want to, but I think that's okay. I have two main bones of contention. First, the book feels disjointed at times. Even the ending where I think Jokinen makes some very nice points, doesn't quite give the resolution I was hoping for. That said, the undertaker he's shadowing makes the excellent point that ...more
Tina Hamilton
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tina by: Powells Bookstore in Portland, Oregon
My review: A sometimes graphic, but always humane (and sometimes witty) study of the death industry and how it is changing as baby boomers turn more and more to cremation. Interesting note: some funeral directors have changed careers to providing services for pet deaths. As one man put it, "Some people spend more on their pets than their family members." Hmm. . . Give one pause.

WARNING: The book is not for the squeamish.

What follows is a fair review from Booklist: (NOTE: ellipsis and brackets m
Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. I am fascinated by death and everything that goes with it. Jokinen takes time off of his radio job to join the world of undertakers. Admittedly, I wanted the down and dirty. What happens to my body after I die? Most of my questions are highly philosophical and theological and I didn't expect to get them answered in at book like this (if ever, at all!), but this book, while informative in some regards, largely focused on the history of the funeral industry and the problems the ...more
Apr 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
No pun intended but this book is surprisingly full of deadpan humor about what you would consider a very humorless subject: the funeral industry. And make no mistake, burying the dead is no different than any other business where everything is geared to making a tidy profit.

The author chronicles his adventures working for a small, independently run funeral home and uses the experience to observe, comment, and reflect on the industry as a whole. It has a Canadian locale but pretty much stand for
I am generally not a fan of non-fiction, except when it comes to anything dealing with human bodies. It's the public health advocate in me, I suppose. This book sucked me in. I couldn't put it down. Tom Jokinen is an excellent writer and explores his own relationship with impending mortality as he explains the burgeoning options now on offer for the death care industry. He keeps away from the cryogenic and neo-pyramid cults and sticks to the real issues, embalm, casket, cremate, inter, grave mar ...more
This was a really interesting, often funny look at the modern North American funeral industry from someone who didn't grow up around the business. Jokinen has a raw, dry humour that works well with the subject and I found myself laughing more than once, which really made this book all the more enjoyable. I also learned a lot about the ins and outs of the business side of death and it made me think about what I would want for my own (hopefully not in the near future) funeral and burial.
While the
D.m. Grace
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing look at the funeral industry from a man that left a career in radio to study the art of being an undertaker. Throughout the book, you learn along with Tom Jokinen, about the customs and rituals, how sometimes in the office, the funeral home workers are dancing (respectfully) and that inside those sombre walls there are conflicts and posturing for position, just like every other workplace.

Mr. Jokinen also delves into the business side of the funeral ind
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sam by: Michael Kitson
This was not a book I expected to enjoy. But I found myself deeply interested in everything Jokinen wrote about, morbidly interested in fact. Although, I have come to learn, purely through reading this book that there is NOTHING morbid about death. Not in Winnipeg anyway. Being an undertaker is a vital role in society and one that is greatly overlooked. Staff at a funeral home become family and their work is greatly undervalued. I think that when I die, I'd like my ever after to be handled by so ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
Jokinen is a journalist who has worked on a number of CBC shows. When his family relocated to Winnipeg, he decided to do a project on the business of dying. He began working with a family-owned funeral home with its own crematorium. As he learned more about the business, he also delved into literature about it, and travelled to other locations to see what trends were developing in the industry.
His account is personal yet informative, humorous yet respectful. This is an industry few of us know mu
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really quite good, it left me knowing that I need to pre-arrange my funeral so that my loved ones are not burdened and therefore convinced to pay for more than what is needed. The funeral industry has been in the business of making rich men richer and exploiting the grief of people for so long, and this book was fabulous at illustrating their current state of anxiety. Cremations are cheaper than burials and more and more people are choosing to be cremated. Funeral home owners are n ...more
Nov 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. The tone was just right and it was informative as well as entertaining with some good doses of laughter. You really do need to inject some humour into this kind of subject and he does it well. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already read "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. That is an outstanding book. I loved it. Not for the squeamish. I suppose I shouldn't compare because one is more about the industry and the other is more an explo ...more
Gail Burns
I've only just begun this book and already found myself chuckling at its pared back honesty. I'm glad I have a black sense of humour and can laugh a story which deals with a subject most people would rather not know much about. Tom's early ridiculous efforts to manage the tasks of an undertaker effectively are a scream. He manages to couch the horror most people feel at the details of this end of things into his amusing observations and experiences. I'm looking forward to absorbing every word. ...more
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a book that covers the period of time from death to eternity(almost). It describes, sometimes in vivid detail, what happens at the funeral home, both actual sales/embalming, and during cremation. It is written in a lighthearted way, sometimes, and in a serious way at other times. It describes the funeral business in great detail, leaving nothing out. It describes the past, present and also the future of the funeral business.
I think a book like this should be required reading for anyone w
Alissa Hodgson weichel
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at "the gap" - the time between when we die and the next time our loved one see us; at our "funeral". I didn't expect that I would get as involved in this book as I did, but Tom asks questions of us that we would not otherwise ask does something not many books do; makes us think! Well done and worth the read! ...more
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Well written and humorous look at the current state of affairs in the after-care business. Very Manitoba/Winnipeg centric. I felt like running over to some of the places he mentioned after reading, just to make the connection with the book that much more real.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
I expected to like this book quite a bit, as I loved Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, both of Caitlin Doughty's books, and various other books in this, um, genre. But it never grabbed me and eventually became a chore to read. Yes, he updates Mitford's observations, and that's mildly interesting. And the earlier parts of the book have stories about the dead bodies and the families he encountered while apprenticing with an undertaker. But there's a lot of repetition, especially about t ...more
Jean Walton
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well, it's not a pleasant job but someone has to do it. The things some people requested for funerals, the costs incurred and the commercialism involved astounded me. Personally I would like a sky burial but unfortunately you can only have that in Tibet (assuming the Chinese who have control of the country now still allow them to do it) though I doubt my relatives would want to pay to fly me out there. Maybe its for locals only anyway. I can just see a carrion bird sitting there looking at my co ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting and informative look at the "death care industry," one of those things that we all know exist but generally choose not to think about. I learned about lots of types of end of life rituals from the eyes of a true fly on the wall to all of them. I added Jessica Mitfords book, the American way of Death to my list before I was even halfway through, but still really enjoyed it. Graphic, but not to a grotesque or disturbing degree. some portions required a somewhat stronger stomach, but ...more
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Tom Jokinen was a veteran radio producer and video-journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., having worked on Morningside, Counterspin with Avi Lewis and Definitely Not the Opera, among many other CBC shows, when he set it all aside in 2006 to be an apprentice undertaker at a family-run funeral home and crematorium in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This drastic vocational change at the age of 44 provid

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