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Reviews of The Extinction of Irena Rey by Jennifer Croft

The Extinction of Irena Rey

by Jennifer Croft

The Extinction of Irena Rey by Jennifer Croft X
The Extinction of Irena Rey by Jennifer Croft
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Mar 2024, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the International Booker Prize-winning translator and Women's Prize finalist, an utterly beguiling novel about eight translators and their search for a world-renowned author who goes missing in a primeval Polish forest.

Eight translators arrive at a house in a primeval Polish forest on the border of Belarus. It belongs to the world-renowned author Irena Rey, and they are there to translate her magnum opus, Gray Eminence. But within days of their arrival, Irena disappears without a trace.

The translators, who hail from eight different countries but share the same reverence for their beloved author, begin to investigate where she may have gone while proceeding with work on her masterpiece. They explore this ancient wooded refuge with its intoxicating slime molds and lichens and study her exotic belongings and layered texts for clues. But doing so reveals secrets-and deceptions-of Irena Rey's that they are utterly unprepared for. Forced to face their differences as they grow increasingly paranoid in this fever dream of isolation and obsession, soon the translators are tangled up in a web of rivalries and desire, threatening not only their work but the fate of their beloved author herself.

This hilarious, thought-provoking debut novel is a brilliant examination of art, celebrity, the natural world, and the power of language. It is an unforgettable, unputdownable adventure with a small but global cast of characters shaken by the shocks of love, destruction, and creation in one of Europe's last great wildernesses.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. The novel begins with a "warning" note from the translator, who we learn is also a character in the book. In this warning, Alexis writes, "Trust is crucial to every stage of the translation process" (1). In Alexis's footnotes, Emilia is represented throughout the novel as an unreliable narrator. But how would you classify the reliability of Alexis's translation—does she earn our trust as readers? Why or why not?
  2. Relatedly, how does this framing set your expectations for the reading experience? Are those expectations subverted at all by the novel's end?
  3. The novel begins in a collective narration, and then breaks off into the first person voice of Emilia. What effect does this have?
  4. "We worshipped Our Author" (5), the novel...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This story offers several points of metaphorical intersection on themes such as the destruction and creation of writing and translation, the toxic nature of celebrity, and the invisibility of the translator and artist. Croft's novel is genuinely clever in a way that is often delightful. It also, at times, creaks under the weight of its construction. Understanding that there are reasons behind certain strange tediums doesn't keep the prose from sometimes feeling as inscrutable and overwrought as Irena's weird house; one can't help but think that Alexis, who according to Emi believes translation to be a kind of editing, wasn't brutal enough...continued

Full Review Members Only (821 words)

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
Delightfully wry.

Kirkus Reviews
Croft ... makes for a wickedly funny satirist when it comes to some of the more obsequious behaviors involved in the translator-author relationship. At the same time-even in the midst of a joke-she writes profoundly about the philosophical stakes of translation.

Library Journal (starred review)
The Extinction of Irena Rey is a metatextual feast that will keep readers wondering even after the book concludes.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Croft serves up a wickedly funny mystery involving an internationally famous author and her translators ... .This is a blast.

Author Blurb Katie Kitamura, author of Intimacies
A wild and wonderfully unruly novel about translation and transmission, The Extinction of Irena Rey is a showcase for Jennifer Croft's acrobatic intellect, delicious humor and voluptuous prose.

Author Blurb Megha Majumdar, author of A Burning
Mischievous and intellectually provocative, The Extinction of Irena Rey asks thrilling questions about the wilderness of language, the life of the forest, and the feral ambitions and failings of artists.

Author Blurb Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Chain Gang All Stars
The Extinction of Irena Rey could only be written by master of language, a tamer of different tongues. It is brilliant, fun and absolutely alive.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Białowieża Forest

Trees along the banks of a stream in Bialowieza ForestIn Jennifer Croft's The Extinction of Irena Rey, humans' domestic and professional concerns mix with those of the natural world against the background of the vast Białowieża Forest, beside which the titular author lives and hosts a personal entourage of translators. The Białowieża Forest is a complex of woodland covering 141,885 hectares (almost 550 square miles) across the border between Poland and Belarus. Located on the watershed of the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, it consists of a mix of the remaining parts of several primeval forests. Due to its unique preservation status and biodiversity, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Białowieża is "the best ...

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