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Booker International Longlist 2021 – An Inventory of Losses by

53. Judith Schalansky - Inventory of Losses 2_0

Booker International Longlist Book 10 rated by panellists Tracy, Rachel & BookWorm

An Inventory of Losses
Translated by Jackie Smith from German
Published by Quercus, MacLehose Press

Details from the official Booker Site: Each of the pieces within An Inventory of Losses follows the conventions of a different genre, considering something that is irretrievably lost to the world including: the paradisal pacific island of Tuanaki, the Caspian Tiger, the Villa Sacchetti in Rome, Sappho’s love poems, Greta Garbo’s fading beauty, a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, and the former East Germany’s Palace of the Republic.

About the Author

Judith Schalansky was born in 1980 in Greifswald in former East Germany. She studied art history and communication design. Her international best-seller, Atlas of Remote Islands, won the Stiftung Buchkunst (the Art Book Award) for “the most beautifully designed book of the year”, while her novel, The Giraffe’s Neck, in an English translation by Shaun Whiteside, won a special commendation of the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for the best translation from German in 2015. Both books have been translated into more than 20 languages. Schalansky works as a freelance writer and book designer in Berlin, where she is also publisher of a prestigious natural history list at Matthes und Seitz.

Tracy’s Thoughts: Another book that is more nonfiction than fiction, An Inventory of Losses is a series of fictional essays about various things/places that no longer exist. Some of the topics: a species of tiger, Sappho’s poetry, a film, with the story told in the voice of Greta Garbo, and an island. There are twelve chapters of 15 pages each, and apparently the book is stunningly beautiful. (I read the kindle version, which doesn’t capture the uniqueness of the print version.)

There were some really good stories, but more misses for me. The writing was very well done, and it was an original idea, but some of the essay/stories were just flat out boring. I really wanted to love this, but it was a bit too avant-garde for me.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 13/20

BookWorm’s Thoughts: This is a tough one for me to rate firstly because it could be considered a series of short stories (you all know by now how I feel about that) and secondly because this reads more like non-fiction than fiction and that isn’t my thing.

That said this is an interesting idea to blend real people, things, places etc  that no longer exist with a fictional account that imagines their demise in terms of originality this would probably be the winner. The problem for me was I found the writing very dry and it was easy for me to get distracted.

Unlike Tracy I have the print version and it is a thing of beauty, the cover is gorgeous and the illustrations at the start of each chapter really add to the experience. If you want a book you could spend hours just looking at this is it.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

Rachel’s Thoughts: This was the only book on the shortlist where I went in with expectations – I loved the vignettes and visuals of Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, and hoped for more of the same. For An Inventory of Losses, I made the mistake of reading the Kindle version (don’t do it – Schalansky is a book designer as well as an author, and her physical books are just beautiful). I would also have got along better if I’d had time to dip into individual chapters and follow my own rabbit-holes, rather than straight reading cover-to-cover.

An Inventory of Losses is a mix of genres, essays, memoir and short stories, around things which are no more. I loved the idea, the writing’s great, and each individual topic is fascinating, from the Love Songs of Sappho to the Palace of the Republic. For me, however, the chapters that sat closer to non-fiction were more successful – learning what we know (or don’t know) about each object was wonderful, and the author’s research shone through without ever feeling heavy. Sadly, the stories that were written in a more fictional style failed to capture my interest in the same way, the notable exception being Kinau’s Selenographs which wrapped things up nicely.

Overall, I liked the idea of An Inventory of Losses just that little bit more than I liked the book itself.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: ½
Total 14/20

Ratings:
When We Cease to Understand the World 19/20
At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
Wretchedness 13.5/20
An Inventory of Losses 12.7/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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