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.
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"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