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

AN INVENTORY OF LOSSES

Objects, animals, and places that no longer exist, except in our collective imagination.

Schalansky’s fifth book is a collection of beautifully constructed stories about objects that have not survived the test of time. “Being alive means experiencing loss,” Schalansky writes, and the world has experienced much loss. Animals, people, and places that once existed are now only memories due to inevitable decay, colonialism, the cleansing of records, and natural disasters. While in Schalansky’s previous book, Atlas of Remote Islands (2010), she wrote of remote havens that remain difficult to reach even with modern travel, here she depicts the animals, people, and places that are only known through what details have been recorded or remembered. From fragments of Sappho’s poems to a submerged South Pacific island, from the extinct Caspian tiger to the lost films of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Schalansky brings us to the fantastical worlds of gladiator rings in ancient Rome, the ruins of a 19th-century German palace, and the surface of the moon. Tying the stories together are Schalansky’s evocative, precise descriptions and the sense of wonder in confronting the sheer immensity of what has been lost. “The world...only grieves for what it knows,” she writes. Schalansky documents her chosen objects with utmost care while relying on myth as she moves beyond what we know for fact to what we might imagine. “For myth is the highest of all realities and...the library the true theater of world events.” 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.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2963-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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