Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

“Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality”
--Emily Dickinson

Keturah lives in a small village on the outskirts of the kingdom. She sees a beautiful deer and follows it into the forest. Getting hopelessly lost, she finally settles beneath a tree and waits for Death to come. Come he does, riding on a horse. She tells Death she is not ready to die; Death’s reply is that no one is, but then he makes an offer. He will not take Keturah’s life if she will just name one person to take her place. Although he points out several people who are old or sad or tired of life, Keturah is horrified and refuses the offer. She is even more horrified to discover that the plague will arrive in her village, ensuring the deaths of many. She must find a way to warn the village and stop the plague, but first she must get death to agree to spare her.

She begins to tell Death a story, but like Scheherazade, she does not finish her story; instead promising to tell the ending the next night if he will allow her to live that long. Death agrees, and even agrees to allow to live past the next night if only she can find her one true love. Thus begins Keturah’s quest – to find her one true love and to save her village from the plague.

This is a beautiful, beautiful tale with a surprise ending. I found it magical. It’s not so much that I was eager for Keturah to defeat Death (he is scary, but not in a monster-way) but that I wanted her to be happy because she cared so much about the people of her village.

I thought Leavitt did a magnificant job with the setting. I could see the village and the people as they went about their lives. I could feel the hopelessness of many and then their happiness as Keturah helped lift their sorrows and worries.

This was a National Book Award Finalist in 2006. I have not read the winner of that year (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) but I can certainly see why this was a finalist. It was delightful.

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