|Published July 11, 2017|
Losing one's mother is jarring.
Danticat does share personal details about her mother and tries to convey the dynamics of their relationship. However, more than half of the book takes a literary approach to the topic of death.
A writer herself, it makes sense that Danticat immersed herself in the works of forty plus famous authors who have written about death.
For example, she explores the writings of DeLillo, Didion, Garcia Marquez, Lewis, Lorde, Morrison, Sexton, Tolstoy, and Wilder.
After examining a statement by Camus, Danticat steps back to make this observation:
"We write about the dead to make sense of our losses, to become less haunted, to turn ghosts into words, to transform an absence into language. Death is an unparalleled experience, so we look to death narratives, and to the people in our lives who are dying, for some previously unknowable insights, which we hope they will pass on to use in some way" (p. 29).
She also talks about deaths that are more public--the jumpers from the Trade Towers, the earthquake victims in Haiti (her homeland for the first 12 years of her life), the children and teachers shot at Sandy Hook and more.
But the more powerful passages are those written about her mother's life and death.
"One of the tragedies of death is that it interrupts a lifelong dialogue, rendering it a monologue. Instead of talking now, my mother mostly listened. As I watched her sleeping in the hospital bed in my house one night, I tried to imagine a type of story I could tell her to keep her awake, and thus alive--a story that would never end" (p. 149).
Death did finally come to her mother, but through the pages of The Art of Death, Danticat extends her mother's life as a way to expressed a shared humanity. We all must grapple with hard deaths, including but not limited to the death of our mothers. And in the struggle, we explore what it means to live, to be human, and to love.
Books on the Dying Process