Summary and book reviews of An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky

An Inventory of Losses

by Judith Schalansky

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky X
An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky
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  • Published:
    Dec 8, 2020, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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Book Summary

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, or Rebecca Solnit, An Inventory of Losses is a beautiful evocation of twelve specific treasures that have been lost to the world forever, and, taken as a whole, opens mesmerizing new vistas of how we can 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.

Excerpt
An Inventory of Losses

Between 1810 and 1820, Caspar David Friedrich painted the harbor of his native city of Greifswald crowded with the masts of sailing ships, among them galleasses, brigantines and yachts. The old Hanseatic city was connected with all the major commercial centers via the navigable estuary of the river Ryck, which flows into the Baltic Sea, and even though the channel of the river Ryck was much broader then, it frequently threatened to silt up.

The 94-centimeter-high, 74-centimeter-wide oil painting had been in the possession of the Hamburger Kunsthalle since 1909, and in 1931 went on show at Munich's Glass Palace as part of the exhibition Works by German Romantics from Caspar David Friedrich to Moritz von Schwind. On June 6 a fire broke out there that destroyed more than three thousand paintings, including all the works in the special exhibition.

*

The problem is not locating the source but making it out. I am standing by a meadow with a map in my hand ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The book is a hand-selected museum of oddities, united only by their temporal existence. Because of this story-by-story, object-by-object structure, casual readers will enjoy dipping in and out at their leisure. Instead of simply describing the objects, animals and places that no longer exist and explaining their significance – what one might expect from nonfiction – Schalansky chooses distinct fictionalized voices for each chapter. Although this narrative style allows her to be historically accurate while experimenting with storytelling techniques, it can be disorienting...continued

Full Review Members Only (557 words).

(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Schalansky's inspired latest melds history, memoir, and fiction into something new and extraordinary: a museum of the extinct, the missing, and the forgotten...[she] cements her reputation as a peerless chronicler of the fabulous, the faraway, and the forgotten.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Schalansky's meticulously researched stories are poignant reminders of the extent of our impact on the natural world and a call to honor the animals, objects, and places that, due to our own negligence, have ceased to exist. An exploration of extinct animals and objects told through dazzling stories that question the bounds of memory and myth.

Library Journal (starred review)
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.

Die Zeit (Germany)
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.

Author Blurb Anthony Doerr
A celebration of what can still be accomplished with imagination, paper, and ink.

Author Blurb Robert Macfarlane
Exquisite. Like the hero of Joris-Karl Huysmans's novel A 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.

Author Blurb Rosmarie Waldrop
Utterly fascinating.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

John Coltrane's Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Black and white photo of John Coltrane playing saxophoneSarah Schalansky's book An Inventory of Losses introduces readers to an eclectic group of 12 things that no longer exist, from extinct species to ruined castles. But early on, Schalansky notes that sometimes the opposite happens — something is pulled back into public consciousness after a period of dormancy. One of these things is John Coltrane's Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album.

John Coltrane (1927-1967) is hailed as one of the greatest and most influential jazz figures of all time, shaping 20th-century music as a saxophonist, bandleader and composer. His musical inclinations were shaped at a young age from hearing spiritual music when his grandfather, an African Methodist Episcopal reverend, preached in North Carolina. In...

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