Life, for Keturah, began with a death, the death of her mother as she brought her into the world. Raised by her grandparents and fostered with great love and affection, in a village she adored, Keturah evaded death until the passing of her grandfather. When she was old enough, it was her grandmother's wish that she join her in her work as a midwife. Their art made possible the welcoming of new life, while bringing Keturah ever closer to what bearing a child can mean- death.
The lord of the land has long hunted the elusive white hart, famed for his ability to always thwart the lord's attempts to catch him. When he appears before Keturah at the edge of the forest, she is compelled to follow the fabled creature deep into the woods, so deep that she becomes lost. After several days, when she can no longer summon the strength to keep going, Keturah sits down and waits for the death she knows is imminent. And death does come for Keturah. Lord Death himself comes to bear her away from her life to what lies beyond. Faced with the realization that she must leave her home and friends and an aged grandmother who needs her assistance, Keturah attempts to bargain with death, a ploy used by countless before her.
For him she weaves a story, just as she would were she telling it around the fire. She tells a story of true love that so intrigues Lord Death that he must know its ending. Keturah tempts him with the promise of the story's ending but vows she will not tell him until tomorrow. Lord Death is forced to grant her wish, and vows that if in that one day, she can find the true love she speaks of in her tale, he will spare her life.
In one day Keturah must find true love, or submit to that which has shadowed her life from the very first. With death so much a part of her past and present, could the very lord of death be her future?
This story was amazing and heartwrenchingly beautiful. I wasn't able to put it down. Leavitt might have written this book yesterday, a hundred years ago, or a hundred years from now and her mastery of the art of true fairy tale story telling would make this a classic anywhere or anytime. It could appear bound amidst all the famous fairy tales and you would never know it didn't start out there.
It wouldn't mean much if I said that this is the best book I've read this year, since it's only the second, but I can go ahead and predict that it'll be one of the best I read all year long. It's a beautiful little story that I promise you will never forget and I'm grateful to be able to consider it now one of my favorites.
If the book wasn't already haunting enough, when it was over I read the acknowledgments, only to learn that Ms. Leavitt had a sister that died from cystic fibrosis at the age of eleven. The concept of death being something to embrace rather than fear becomes even more poetic when you think about what she's been through and why she wrote it. Keturah's journey and the villagers acceptance of her bond with death must have been very similar to the trials of the author and her family. I hope writing this book was healing for her.