Making an Exit
From the Magnificent to the Macabre---How We Dignify the Dead
By Sarah Murray
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312533021, 320pp.)
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
List Price: $25.99*
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Thoughtful, amusing, and provocative, Making an Exit will transform the way you look at life's last passage. Because, as Murray discovers, death is, for many, not an ending but the start of something new.
Author and journalist Sarah Murray never gave much thought to what might ultimately happen to her remains—that was, until her father died. While he’d always insisted that the “organic matter” left after a person takes their last breath had no significance, he surprised his family by setting down elaborate arrangements for the scattering of his own ashes. This unexpected last request prompted Murray to embark on a series of voyages to discover how our end is commemorated around the globe—and how we approach our own mortality.
Spanning continents and centuries, Making an Exit is Murray’s exploration of the extraordinary creativity unleashed when we seek to dignify the dead. Along the way, she encounters a cremation in Bali in which two royal personages are placed in giant decorative bulls and consigned to the afterlife in a burst of flames; a chandelier in the Czech Republic made entirely from human bones; a weeping ceremony in Iran; and a Philippine village where the casketed dead are left hanging in caves. She even goes to Ghana to commission her own fantasy coffin.
The accounts of these journeys are fascinating, poignant, and funny. But this is also a very personal quest: on her travels, Murray is seeking inspiration for her own eventual send-off.
SARAH MURRAY is author of Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat. A longtime Financial Times contributor, she lives in New York City.
“An Eat, Pray, Love for the afterlife … Murray tackles an uncomfortable subject with sensitivity, humor and great insight … Making an Exit raises a host of issues worth thinking about … In addition to being a deeply informative book, Making an Exit is also a personal one. Murray’s reflections on her father’s terminal illness and his plans for a no-frills cremation are particularly touching … In the end, as her own experiences show, the rituals we create to honor the dead may say more about the living, and our fears and hopes.”—Rachel Newcomb, The Washington Post
“The death of her father, and his clear orders for an unfussy, secular send-off, prompted Ms. Murray to consider her own long goodbye. The result is not only a fascinating travelogue, but also a personal meditation on loss and fate. Ms. Murray excels in the role of intrepid tour guide. She has an inviting way of taking readers by the hand to explore new cultures and places … there is a wealth to discover within these pages.”—The Economist