Hello humans! No, your eyes do not deceive you. I, Judith, am reviewing non-fiction. Don’t worry I haven’t strayed away from my YA roots, but I desperately wanted to share with you how good this book is.
Fascinated by our pervasive terror of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty set out to discover how other cultures care for their dead. In rural Indonesia, she observes a man clean and dress his grandfather’s mummified body. Grandpa’s mummy has lived in the family home for two years, where the family has maintained a warm and respectful relationship. She meets Bolivian natitas (cigarette- smoking, wish- granting human skulls), and introduces us to a Japanese kotsuage, in which relatives use chopsticks to pluck their loved- ones’ bones from cremation ashes. With curiosity and morbid humor, Doughty encounters vividly decomposed bodies and participates in compelling, powerful death practices almost entirely unknown in America. Featuring Gorey-esque illustrations by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity introduces death-care innovators researching green burial and body composting, explores new spaces for mourning— including a glowing- Buddha columbarium in Japan and America’s only open-air pyre— and reveals unexpected new possibilities for our own death rituals.
I’m a morbid gal, have been for a while now, but I definitely still struggle with the idea of death when it isn’t in fiction. Death isn’t something I often have to face, thankfully, but when it does come around it tends to hit me pretty hard. That’s why I became fascinated by Caitlin Doughty’s death positive movement, which I first encountered in a video of her Ted talk and then later when I binge-watched all of her youtube videos. I have yet to read her memoir The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes but I hope to soon.
From Here to Eternity is a phenomenally well-written book, just the right level of science for a beginner without feeling patronising and with smatterings of humour that make this subject entertaining – without feeling disrespectful. In fact, I was pleased with how respectful this book was. You definitely get the sense that Doughty is aware of her position as a ‘white lady’ observing the traditions of other cultures and she handles this sensitively, even calling herself out when she feels she is acting like a terrible tourist.
If you have any interest in funeral practices, or even if you think you might, this book is a good look into how the western mode of burial isn’t the norm and that our funeral industry needs a drastic overhaul. This book obviously comes from an American perspective but there are a lot of parallels between US and UK funeral practices.
This book left me thinking about what will happen when I die, and how my body will have an impact on the environment, and on the finances of those for whom my funeral could be a financial burden.
This is a fascinating book that touches on some important ideas. If you don’t normally read non-fiction (like me) I can vouch for it being an excellent read despite the lack of fantasy.
My rating: 5/5 stars
All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are there other great non-fiction books I should check out? Let me know in the comments below!