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The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die Hardcover – September 18, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition edition (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476783
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,348,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When her daughter's fiance died suddenly in early 1998, Canadian journalist Ashenburg was forced to confront contemporary Western culture's ambivalence about mourning-especially for the death of a young person. Lacking the rites and rituals that more traditional societies offer, we mourn as best we can; even so, we act in ways that bear close similarities to mourning rites across times and cultures. Into her loving and intimate account of her own family's grief, Ashenburg weaves descriptions of mourning rituals from a broad range of traditions. She explores postmortem treatment of the body; wakes, funeral ceremonies and prayers; burial and cremation; gender roles; and such customs as condolence letters and mourning clothes. Ashenburg's approach is thematic and selective: from reburial of bones in rural Greece to suttee (widow-burning) in India; from the tearing of clothes in Jewish culture to Scarlett O'Hara defiantly dancing in her widow's weeds in Gone with the Wind. Rich in such detail, the book overlookds other relevant subjects: it touches on collective mourning in England for British royalty, for example, but doesn't consider the ways in which entire societies have grieved for victims of the Shoah, the gulag or those in a mass grave. But though its treatment of anthropological themes may be selective, the book eloquently makes the point that mourning is a necessary and transformative experience. Because mourning is both personal and communal, it demands greater societal attention.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Such an elegant, deeply informative text. The Mourner's Dance weaves rich scholarship through the homespun of family history, folk tradition, and manifest humanity. In a way that Jessica Mitford never could, Ashenburg understands the verities of good grief and good funerals and why, to deal with Death, we must deal with our dead. Free of the warm-fuzzies, full of uncommon wisdom--here is a gift outright to anyone who reads and breathes."--Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking

"A fascinating, intelligent, moving, and witty account of one of our most basic and least understood needs: to come to terms with the end of a life that we loved."--Alberto Manguel

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
While the topic might seem difficult to dwell on, I was enchanted by this book and was sorry when I finally finished it. It is written in a spare and elegant style, beautifully appointed at every turn.
The writer effortlessly manages to do the near impossible: condense mountains of research into a highly emotional and entertaining read.
Mourning is often a private matter but here we are taken on an intelligent tour of its history and culture. It left this modern reader with a fresh understanding of a very common practice. I loved this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a baby boomer, and not particularly religious, I have moved into a period of my life where my attendance at funerals is now more common than at weddings. Having lost my mother, I bought this book to try and work my way through the sense of loss I felt. In doing so, I was richly rewarded. Ashenburg's study of grieving, is both intensely personal and richly cultural. She shifts between these two worlds easily. She begins with the simple narrative of her daughter's tragic loss (her fiance was killed in a car accident) and then takes flight: the reader is witness to various grieving practices around the world and down through history. I felt better and better informed after reading it. I congratulate the author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brittany Coyle on October 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
Katherine Ashenburg informs the reader on how people have dealt with death from centuries ago, and how they deal today. With tons of examples of research from various cultures, Ashenburg beautifully describes the traditions,norms, rituals, and expectations of one's culture and gender. She starts off with describing the tragic death of her daughter's fiance, and intertwines her daugher's grieving process with rich, compelling information in each chapter. This book will not make one sad, but will let them gain wisdom, and perhaps rethink the wakes and funerals they have attended. I have a new-found understanding on why some mourners grieved in ways that have once seemed abnormal,or indifferent. Ashenburg ends the book on a positive note, showing that mourners will survive.
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