Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

This peculiar tale reminded me of Scheherezade in 1001 Nights and of last year’s other Death Personified story, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I told the Eldest the bare outline of the plot, and she immediately said, “Chaucer’s already used that plot device.” Indeed, Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale does have three drunken men go into the forest to meet and conquer Death. And then there’s the flavor in the story, if not the humor, of The Princess Bride.

However, Keturah and Lord Death is neither fish nor fowl, neither romance nor comedy, neither fairy tale nor high tragedy. I thought about saying that it was a sort of prosaic hymn to Death itself, but it’s not that exactly. It may be speculative fiction about the inevitability of Death. Or about the power of love to transcend Death. It may be an old folk tale reworked into a modern novel. Or something else altogether.

I’m not completely sure. And in this book, the uncertainty fits. Keturah and Lord Death isn’t an allegory; it’s a regular old story of the kind that C.S. Lewis would have approved as much as he disapproved of allegory. It’s not exactly a “Christian” story, but it doesn’t contradict the Christian view of life and death.

“Tell me what it is like to die,” I answered.

He dismounted from his horse, looking at me strangely the whole while. “You experience something similar every day,” he said softly. “It is as familiar to you as bread and butter.”

“Yes, I said. “It is like every night when I fall asleep.”

“No. It is like every morning when you wake up.”

Ms Leavitt begins her tale with a snippet of Emily Dickinson (Because I could not stop for Death,/He kindly stopped for me;/The carriage held but just ourselves/And Immortality) and ends with this revelation in the Acknowledgments:

“Finally, I express my love to my younger sister, Lorraine, who died many years ago of cystic fibrosis at the age of eleven. Now, as a mother and grandmother, I realize what a long journey dying must be for a child to make alone. I wish I could have walked with her a little way. This book is my way of doing so.”

If you like faity tale and romantic fantasy and uncoventional quest stories, the journey is well worth your time.

6 thoughts on “Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

  1. What a beautiful review. The only story I’ve read that you mentioned is The Book Thief which I loved so I won’t have too many comparisons, but I definitely want to read this. I love the quote from the Acknowledgments. Thanks

  2. I adored this book, found it spellbinding and beautiful. It felt like a classic and was an absolute pleasure to read.

  3. Amira

    i love dthis book. It actually made me cry in the end.

  4. Mae

    I just finished reading it. It’s a love story but, unlike most, you will never guess the ending. Your heart and mind bounce, almost tragically, back and forth with thoeries on how the story may turn, then when you think, “That’s it! I figured it out!” and you’ll find your self wrong. When I finished it I just sat there and sighed. It’s not really a happy or a sad book, it’s just a beautifully, amazingly, truthful book.

  5. Keara

    This has to be my favorite book of all time. It’s true in every aspect. The subtle arguments Keturah puts forth gave me something to smile about, and the truth of the ending brought me to my knees. I had stop and wipe my eyes more than once to finish.

    I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

    -For there is not obscenity quite as offensive as the naked truth.

  6. Rose

    This book was a hauntingly beautiful piece. I enjoyed and I adore Emily Dickinson, she is a talented poet. The snippet from the poem set a beautiful tone, as a haunting piece. I was only ten when I first read it and so I didn’t quite understand the tones and mood of it. Of course now it stays in my head forever. Maybe it is why I know that love is everlasting, but so is Death. And one whom you love never truly dies, they just go to a safe place and wait for you. Or rather you wait to join them. That’s all life is of course, waiting to die.

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