An Inventory of Losses

New Directions. Jun. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780811229630. $22.95. F
Twelve fictional essays comprise this stunning work depicting animals, places, objects, and buildings that are lost forever. In one chapter, the extinct Caspian tiger is imagined as both predator and victim in a fight to the death in the Roman Colosseum. Another chapter relates the story of the cobbled-together skeleton of a unicorn “discovered” by Otto von Guericke in a gypsum quarry. Elsewhere, marital infidelity is key to a remembrance of the East German Palace of the Republic. In this smooth and expert translation, internationally best-selling author Schalansky (The Giraffe’s Neck) illuminates these “lost” inventoried gems with thorough research and details, making us ponder their transitory quality. Her descriptive writing of nature and botanical subjects is particularly accomplished. Indexes of persons, images, and sources are included.
VERDICT In her quest to find meaning for herself, Schalansky examines life and death in a work that will inspire many hours of talk for book discussion groups. Not to be read quickly but savored and contemplated.

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