Robert Desjarlais's Subject to Death is a deeply haunting and evocative book about the mourning rituals within Hyolmo society in Nepal. The text uncovers a collective process of witnessing and responding to death that answers a set of questions posed in its penultimate chapter. Why do Hyolmo rites invoke so many varied images of the deceased, only to dissolve them in subsequent ritual moments? Why do the rituals proceed from tangibility and graphicness to abstraction, anonymity, and emptiness? And how do these rituals transform or assuage the grief of those who mourn?

By placing these framing questions at the end rather than the beginning of the book, Desjarlais asks the reader to proceed through the text in a state of relative unknowing that is overwhelmed by the rich complexity of sensory details, characters, and narrative fragments of loss. The effect is one in which the reader experiences death as a...

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