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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen

At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year of adventures both hair-raising and hilarious, Jokinen finds a world that is radically changed since Jessica Mitford revised The American Way of Death, more surprising than Six Feet Under, and even funnier and more illuminating than Stiff.

If Bill Bryson were to apprentice at a funeral home, searching for the meaning of life and death, you’d have Curtains.

The pages are riddled with dark humor and interesting facts. Did you know you can get your ashes put into a teddy bear? The book unveils the political wars that those in the funeral business participate in. There is money in death and the mourning are easy to manipulate. Everything from the  the coffins to the paintings on the wall are important for the best sales.

We've always had an intimate relationship with their dead. Through reading this book you see just how unable we are to let go of the passed, spending thousands of dollars to make ourselves feel better. Does a dead man care if he has a coffin that locks out all elements or has a "slimming" affect?

As the world's population grows not only in numbers but in size; the coffin makers have to change as well. More and more extra large coffins are needed for our extra large world. People are vain even in death, did you know you can buy a coffin that will make you appear slimmer? Apparently dead is the new black. Crematories are having to push the limits in order to safely cremate the hefty. Fat doesn't do too well under extreme temperatures.

The world of burying is quickly changing, as more and more people revert to cremation, funeral homes are starting to suffer. Cremation can cost considerably less than the most basic funeral, but that is not good news for those looking to make big bucks from grandpa. Jokinen lists bizarre ways in which you can carry your loved ones around with you. You can turn grandpa's ashes into pencils, or wear him around your neck, or let little Johnny cuddle with him at night. Hell, you could choose cremation and still have a wake via rent-a-coffin.

For those traditionalists who do have a conventional funeral the possibilities are endless. You can even choose a theme for the wake! But before that, your loved one must get a makeover like no other. Layers of thick makeup are caked on to make the person appear dead! Apparently the blue tint you associate with the dead isn't true. Also, have you ever tried to dress a corpse in the throws of rigor mortis? Hint, its not easy.

If I learned anything for this dark, but funny book; it is that Disney Land doesn't appreciate you dumping your beloved's ashes in their park no matter how much grandpa liked the Peter Pan ride.

4 "dead" Sheep

Guest reviewer: Ren Stogner 

About the Author:
Tom Jokinen was a veteran radio producer and video-journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., having worked on Morningside, Counterspin with Avi Lewis and Definitely Not the Opera, among many other CBC shows, when he set it all aside in 2006 to be an apprentice undertaker at a family-run funeral home and crematorium in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This drastic vocational change at the age of 44 provided him with an amazing opportunity to explore, first-hand, our culture's relationship with the dead, dying, and left behind. The resulting book,Curtains, documents what he experienced and learned subsequently.

Previously, Jokinen has also worked as a railroad operator and an editorial cartoonist. He spent two years in medical school at the University of Toronto where he notably dissected two human cadavers before dropping out.

The author and his wife currently reside in Ottawa, Ontario.


  1. I had to get a copy after reading the review -- I would never have known about the book otherwise.

    1. My teenage daughter's psychology teacher gave it to her as a gift when she got her student of the year award from him. He knows she is a fan of anything... dead