Wednesday 20 November 2019

Riveting tales from the crematory

Smoke Gets in your Eyes - Doughty, CaitlinI first encountered Caitlin Doughty while watching Ted Talks. Her talk, A burial practice that nourishes the planet, explores different ideas for burial that don’t pollute the environment with toxic, cancer-causing formaldehyde. It was absolutely fascinating, so when I learned that she was a published author with three books, I wasted no time getting my hands on them.   

From Here to Eternity - Doughty, CaitlinIn Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty tells the story of her journey into the funeral industry, from crematory assistant, then mortuary school, to founder of the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death. The book opens with her first day as a crematory assistant, flashes back to her first encounter with death, and goes over frank and often graphic descriptions of what happens to bodies at the funeral home and beyond. It’s definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but far from being all sadness, horror and gore, this book is also hilarious, candid, and empowering. Doughty challenges the idea of death avoidance that has permeated our society’s death rituals in the last hundred years with the rise of the multimillion-dollar funeral industry. She challenges the reader to ask themselves what do you want to happen to your body when you die?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? - Doughty, CaitlinHer next two books are equally enjoyable and fascinating. In From Here To Eternity, Doughty explores different current cultural death rituals. From Zoroastrian sky burials, to Bolivian natitas, and Japanese kotsuage ceremonies, there is an immense diversity on how humans care for the dead. In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty answers questions children have posed about death such as can Grandma have a Viking funeral?, or what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated?

Death is inevitable. No matter how much we might not want to, we will all, eventually, die. It is an unchangeable and, at times, terrifying truth. It certainly terrified me, but after reading Dougthy’s three books, death feels less frightening and more like just another part of being human. It is not something I’m looking forward to but it is not something I avoid talking about. I most definitely recommend these fascinating, hilarious, and poignant books to those of a curious mind and a brave heart. 

Friday 1 November 2019

New World

Richmond Public Library recently received a bunch of brand-new Graphic Novels which prompted me to revisit this genre. When I saw New World, I was immediately drawn to the striking artwork and knew I had to read this book.  David Jesus Vignolli, a Brazilian graphic novelist, weaves the story of an Indigenous Brazilian warrior, an enslaved African musician, and a Portuguese sailor who come together to battle the pale white giants who have invaded the New World. 

When Iracema discovers the enslaved African people living near her tribe, she must take up arms to free them from the Portuguese colonialists. With this purpose in mind, Iracema goes deep into the woods and is bestowed a lightning bow from the God Tupa. This bow is the only way to protect her people from monsters and evil beings. Along with a band of warriors, Iracema invades the colonialist settlement to free the slaves; however, horrible monsters attack the brave warriors and many perish in the fight. Amakai, a man being sold at the slave auction that day, manages to escape the fight and rescue Iracema from the fray. He is an African prince who can play a flute that draws out the monsters of men. Together, they might have what it takes to take on the monstrous colonialists and protect the New World. 

This book has a fair smattering of historical context and weaves many stories together in a compelling way. There is an overarching narrative on the colonisation of South America scattered through the stories of the main protagonists, Iracema and Amakai.  Magical realism provides a backdrop for this tale, making an easy connection between slave traders and monsters.  While there are illustrations of monstrous figures throughout the story, it is hard to say if the monsters are real or just a projection of the slave owners.  Paired with a simplistic yet colourful and clear art style, there are many nuances to the story left unwritten but open for interpretation.