The forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death. That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river. The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past — the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else — and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back. For this reason, the living bring their own rituals to a standstill: to welcome the newly loosed spirit, the living will not clean, will not wash or tidy, will not remove the soul’s belongings for forty days, hoping that sentiment and longing will bring it home again, encourage it to return with a message, with a sign, or with forgiveness.
As a book reviewer, I’ve read many novels that were easy to write about, easy to critique or praise because they’re definable and have recognizable strengths and weaknesses. I’ve read several novels that I enjoyed so little that I felt the reviewing them would add little to the overall genre discussion beyond some shit slinging. I’d sit at my keyboard, trying to formulate a balanced, constructive argument for and against the work, and stumble again and again. And then there are novels on the knife’s edge of perfection, that are so joyous and heartrending that to speculate on them, no matter how effusively, would be to mar their beauty. Stardust by Neil Gaiman is one such novel for me. The Tiger’s Wife is another. There’s magic in this novel and I recommend it with every ounce of my passion for literature.