cover image of the book An Inventory of Losses

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

A dazzling book about memory and extinction from the author of Atlas of Remote Islands
Winner of the Warwick Prize
Winner of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s PrizeLonglisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year

An Inventory of Losses

Fictionby 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. Recalling the works of W. G. Sebald, Bruce Chatwin, and Rebecca Solnit, An Inventory of Losses is a beautiful evocation of twelve specific treasures that have been lost to the world forever, and that, taken as a whole, open mesmerizing new vistas of how to think about extinction and loss.

With meticulous research and a vivid awareness of why we should care about these losses, Judith Schalansky, the acclaimed author of Atlas of Remote Islands, lets these objects speak for themselves: she ventriloquizes the tone of other sources, burrows into the language of contemporaneous accounts, and deeply interrogates the very notion of memory.

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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

A simmering free-association excursion through time and space, loosely following the scent of recollection or the ghosts of the archives. As in memory itself, Schalanksy fills the gaps left between data points with emotion, speculation, or pure fantasy.

Hyper Allergic

Disappearance may be a forlorn theme, but it has rarely been granted such reverent contemplation, or been made to feel so powerfully tangible.

Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Judith Schalansky’s An Inventory of Losses and Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory are both trying to pin down echoes and build from dust.

Audrey Wollen, Bookforum

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

Instead of a requiem for what is gone, Schalansky sings a dirge for what remains.

The White Review

It is hard to imagine a better guide to the resources of hope than Schalansky’s deeply engaging inventory.

Michael Cronin, Irish Times

There are essays of wry wisdom…Jackie Smith’s translation shimmers, various as the damselflies.


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)

An exploration of extinct animals and objects told through dazzling stories that question the bounds of memory and myth.

Kirkus (starred)