... the way she engages her subject makes this a book almost everyone can appreciate ... A strength of Danticat's book is the way she moves back and forth between her life and literary texts, using one to understand the other and vice versa ... In The Art of Death, Danticat writes clearly and judiciously about a subject that is challenging for both writers and people to face directly. Her range and grasp of literary references is wide and powerful; she certainly turned me on to books I didn't know before, such as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing. The final prayer she wrote in Manman's voice may bring both tears and laughter to anyone who has lost a mother.
Like John Updike, Danticat writes beautifully about fellow writers, dissecting their magic and technique with a reader’s passion and a craftsman’s appraising eye ... At times, Danticat’s references to books by other writers proliferate so rapidly that the reader can feel like a student cramming for finals in a seminar on the Literature of Death and Grief...Such passages obviously lack the intimacy of the sections of this book devoted to Danticat’s mother, but the reader gradually comes to understand why the author is circling around and around an almost unbearable loss: As a grieving daughter, she wants to understand how others have grappled with this essential fact of human existence; and as a writer she wants to learn how to use language to try to express the inexpressible, to use her art to mourn.
...with Danticat, this never feels like merely an academic exercise. Rather, turning to literature is one of the only ways we may have of coping with the unknown ... The book’s most poignant and life-affirming moments are those that show Danticat and her mother using literature and language to make their way through this singular experience ... It’s unusual for a craft book to make such an emotional impact, but The Art of Death shows readers — through the words of others and through Danticat’s own — how it’s done.
Danticat’s writerly skill is evident in her use of everyday imagery as a contrast to the magnitude of what is taking place... Ostensibly a guide for writers and readers, The Art of Death, much like the author’s prayer, feels like an offering, a study born of devotion. Part essay, part memoir, part elegy, the book has numerous obsessions — lingual, mortal, and parental — that come together to compelling effect ... Whenever possible Danticat offers histories and anecdotes, recollections and analyses of her subjects, and in one case, when she reaches the limits of her research with the death of a central character in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, we are treated to excerpts of her correspondence with the author ...Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death offers counterpoint, consolation, and a means of creation to readers and writers alike.
Danticat’s descriptions of both texts and feelings are often unsentimental. She prefers sparseness and silence, refusing to offer herself or her readers closure ... Some of the most moving passages from the memoir take place as Danticat describes the anticipation of her mother’s death and the terror involved in such an immeasurable loss.
Much of the material in The Art of Death has appeared elsewhere in one form or another. The book occasionally turns into a digression-filled pastiche, and there are times when it feels like a homework assignment ... But Danticat does full justice to her theme when she lingers over fictional scenes that have resonated for her ... Danticat provides a splendid example of death writing herself. In a leitmotif threading its way through the book — a string of asides, really — she recalls the death of her mother.
The strongest thread in The Art of Death is her account of her mother’s reaction to being diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer...Danticat’s portrait of her is kind and loving. It also is, inevitably, anguished in its sense of loss ... Danticat’s attempts to order her thoughts on suicide, bereavement, and death-row prisoners’ experience can be unwieldy. She’s less assured when analyzing someone else’s text than she is when evoking her own experience. Her extensive commentary on Morrison’s novels, for instance, can’t compete with Danticat’s direct dealings with death ... Far from being morbid, this small book is a bracingly clear-eyed take on its subject.
There's no shortage of scribes who've grappled with death in their writing, but The Art of Death offers an inspired syllabus of Danticat's own design — 'not an objective grouping, but a deeply personal one.' Through it, we also learn what moves her on a literary level ... What's important about reading great writing about death — or in the case of The Art of Death, reading about reading about it — is that it teaches us how to live. Rather than shy away from these books, we should turn to them in all seasons.
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 ... 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.
Danticat pursues two major goals here, and they dovetail gracefully. In a series of linked essays on overlapping topics such as suicide, close calls, and how we relate to catastrophic events, she both shows how great writers make death meaningful, and explores her own raw grief over her mother’s death. This slim volume wraps literary criticism, philosophy, and memoir into a gracefully circling whole, echoing the nature of grief as 'circles and circles of sorrow.'