Making an Exit : from the magnificent to the macabre, how we dignify the dead, with Sarah Murray

A dazzling tour of the ultimate taboo. MAKING AN EXIT carries us around the world, exploring the astonishingly various, creative, amusing, beautiful and bizarre ways in which humanity celebrates the dead


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Mexico’s Day of the Dead; spectacular cremations in Bali; the weeping ceremony of Iran; a Philippine village where the casketed dead are left hanging in caves; a chandelier in the Czech Republic made entirely from human bones. Sarah even went to Ghana to commission her own fantasy coffin.

Why are we so reluctant to talk about what happens to us when we die? Author and journalist Sarah Murray had never given much thought to the subject until her father died. While he’d always insisted the “organic matter” left after taking his last breath would have no significance, he surprised the family by leaving detailed arrangements for the scattering of his ashes. His unexpected last request prompted Sarah to explore how, over the centuries and across cultures, our end is commemorated—and how we approach our own mortality.

But what surprised her most was the astonishing creativity that accompanies death. Faced with death, we create elaborate ceremonies to manage it and build great architectural edifices to honour it. We bury our loved ones in the ground. We burn them in fire. In certain cultures, 'sky burial' leaves corpses as carrion, inviting the birds to pick the bones dry.

Murray’s search took her on a series of trips around the world. But these were journeys with a difference – for when you’re looking for the dead, you find yourself in places you might not otherwise have put on your itinerary. And hers was a very personal quest: on her travels, she was seeking inspiration for her own eventual send-off.

Sarah’s book, Making an Exit, (signed copies available at a staggering discount to all Ebenezers), is not just thought provoking but also tender, witty and hugely informative. Universally praised for the quality of the writing, it is a terrific tonic in the face of finality - life-affirming, intelligent, surprising and real. A brilliant subject, wonderfully revealed.


Sarah Murray

Sarah is a longtime Financial Times contributor and author of two books:

Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre, How We Dignify the Dead (Coptic Publishing, London 2011; St Martin’s Press, New York 2011; Picador, New York 2012) and...

Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat (Aurum Press, London 2007; St Martin’s Press, New York 2007; Picador, New York 2008).

As a journalist, Sarah writes on sustainable development, a topic she has covered since the late 1990s. She is a longtime contributor for the Financial Times and the Economist Group.

Born in the UK, Sarah has lived in London, where she was an editor at the Financial Times; Hong Kong, where she was an editor and reporter at the South China Morning Post; Hanoi, where she helped launch the Vietnam Economic Times, an English-language business magazine; and South Africa, where she worked as a freelance writer. She lives in New York City.


The Washington Post: Murray tackles an uncomfortable subject with sensitivity, humor and great insight. Making an Exit raises a host of issues worth thinking about.”

The Economist: “A fascinating travelogue, but also a personal meditation on loss and fate. Ms Murray excels in the role of intrepid tour guide. She has an inviting way of taking readers by the hand to explore new cultures and places … there is a wealth to discover within these pages.”

Daily Mail: “Brilliant … I was transfixed by this oddly life-enhancing book.”

2015Martin Keeley