Will the Circle be Unbroken?

By Studs Terkel.
Granta Books
ISBN 1 86207 511 5

Have you heard the old joke: “Who’d want to live to be 90?”
“Someone of 89!”?

As a society we are terrified of death: we don’t talk about it, we
sanitise it, we try to pretend that it won’t happen to us. And yet
it is the one thing we will all experience.

Studs Terkel is 89 and mourning the death of his wife of 60 years.
He turns to friends and acquaintances, to ask them about their
experiences of death. He interviews casualty department doctors,
priests, survivors of war and people who have nursed loved ones
through Aids and cancer. He calls their “bone-deep, honest
testimonies” a palliative for his grief “beyond

The result for the reader is an extraordinary insight into how
people live with death. One casualty nurse talks about the
“indescribable death howl” of a mother being told of her son’s
death. In one devastating account, a survivor tells of living with
her memories of Hiroshima, and of how she learned to think about

Will the Circle be Unbroken? is a remarkably gentle book that
conveys a strong sense of what dignity there is in death. The book
ends with:”What death means is saying goodbye to all your
attachments. For the person who’s going, it’s everything.”

Rachel Wooller is outreach worker, Alzheimer’s


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