Judith Schalansky: photo credit: René Fietzek

Judith Schalansky

Judith Schalansky, born in Greifswald in 1980, lives in Berlin and works as a writer, book designer, and editor (of the prestigious natural history list at Matthes und Seitz). Her books, including the international bestseller Atlas of Remote Islands and the novel The Giraffe’s Neck, have been translated into more than twenty languages.

An Inventory of Losses

Fiction by Judith Schalansky

Translated by Jackie Smith

Named a best book of 2021 by The Wall Street Journal: “Disappearance may be a forlorn theme, but it has rarely been granted such reverent contemplation, or been made to feel so powerfully tangible.” Each disparate object described in this book—a Caspar David Friedrich painting, a species of tiger, a villa in Rome, a Greek love poem, an island in the Pacific—shares a common fate: it no longer exists, except as the dead end of a paper trail.…
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The most wondrous book of the year: by taking what has vanished and turning it into a great piece of literature, the author has performed a magical act.
Die Zeit
At a time when fears about pandemic disease and environmental crisis have deepened our sense of the fragility of life on earth, An Inventory of Losses offers a set of beautiful, haunting reflections on the loss of precious things – and the ways they may survive. As Schalansky puts it in her bewitching collection of a dozen story-like essays, or essay-like stories, ‘Writing cannot bring anything back, but it can enable everything to be experienced’. From Sappho’s poetry to Garbo’s beauty, extinct beasts to vanished paintings, Ancient Rome to Cold War Berlin, these elegant, elegiac sketches of disappearances, departures and erasures show that we can never bring the past back to life – but that memory and art can put life back into the past.
—Warwick Prize winners citation, Boyd Tonkin
Strewing such riddles along the way, Schalansky leads the astonished reader on a zigzag course through the labyrinth of human consciousness to excavate what the philosopher Francis Bacon termed those “remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time.” If the result is inescapably an elegy of sorts—truly “An Inventory of Losses”—it is a curiously moving and oddly reassuring one.
—Anna Mundow, Wall Street Journal
A fine example of everyone’s favourite genre: the genre-defying book, inspired by history, filtered through imagination and finished with a jeweller’s eye for detail.
—John Self, The Guardian
In rich, evocative, precise prose—beautifully translated from the German by Jackie Smith—Schalansky recalls these lost things and meditates on their destruction, all the while interrogating the extent to which memory—or writing—can compensate for material loss.
—Francesa Wade, The Baffler
Brilliant….an ambulatory and often playful meditation on history and forgetting.
—Kate Zambreno, New York Times
Schalansky treats each of the 12 objects cataloged in her new book with an almost religious awe, like a believer giving herself up to be inhabited by spirits.
Los Angeles Review of Books
In each case Schalansky has alighted on fascinating material, and her delicately poetic turn of phrase is evident on every page.
The Telegraph
A celebration of what can still be accomplished with imagination, paper, and ink.
—Anthony Doerr
Exquisite. Like the hero of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s novel À Rebours, who sets off for London from Paris but realizes he need go no further than the Gare du Nord, Schalansky decides to make a virtue of absence.
—Robert Macfarlane
Utterly fascinating.
—Rosmarie Waldrop
Schalansky cements her reputation as a peerless chronicler of the fabulous, the faraway, and the forgotten.
Publishers Weekly (starred)
Twelve fictional essays comprise this stunning work depicting animals, places, objects, and buildings that are lost forever… Not to be read quickly but savored and contemplated.
Library Journal (starred)
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