Riverhead. Aug. 2018. 416p. tr. from Polish by Jennifer Croft. ISBN 9780525534198. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780525534211. F
OrangeReviewStarWinner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, this work from Polish author Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night) delivers a compounded constellation of coevolving concepts in a set of related passages, some with several installments. Among them: the disappearance of Kunicki's wife and children on a Mediterranean island, Josefine Soliman's three letters to the Emperor of Austria asking for the stuffed body of her father, and the travels of Dr. Blau, who covets the secrets of plastination—the preservation of human body parts. Themes of travel but also escape and flight are pervasive, as is information about bodies dried and stuffed, pickled in preservative, or, in a more modern bent, preserved with plastic polymer. Sprinkled throughout are more brief expostulations; Eryk the absconding ferry driver is notable, as well as the unnamed woman who unceremoniously provides assisted suicide to a dying friend.
VERDICT This host of haunting narratives teases the mind and taunts the soul, providing multiple paths of escape in response to questions about existence and the life's struggles. As a preservative solution of severed threads, it relies on readers for assemblage, and the task is exhilarating indeed. [See Prepub Alert, 2/26/18.]
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