Lost & Found : Judith Schalansky

Fri 26.03.2021
14:30 - 15:30
Schalansky copyright René Fietzek1 jan2021 kopie 2 ok


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in German; English subtitles available as of 31/3

The 12 stories in Schalansky’s An Inventory of Losses deal, among others, with a burned painting by Caspar David Friedrich, an extinct species of tiger, the sacred writings of a defunct religious movement, and a sunken island in the Pacific Ocean: a series of empty spaces in our cultural and natural history, described in different literary styles and genres.

Out of sight, not out of mind

Why is it, that it is only when something is irretrievably lost that we realize what it meant to us? How can something that is concealed wield so much power? Why can’t I throw anything away? Why do extinct species, destroyed paintings and burned books seem so much more interesting and desirable than everything that still exists? These are the kinds of questions Judith Schalansky asks the reader in her book that deals with the lure of empty spaces.

Fiction replaces reality

An Inventory of Losses, however, is also about the enduring power of narrative. Where reality has disappeared, Schalansky replaces it with fiction. The protagonists in her stories are misfits: an eccentric old man who gathers the knowledge of humanity in his garden in Ticino; an elderly Greta Garbo who dreams of a film role as Dorian Gray; or Judith Schalansky’s own father, who abandoned the family before she could form any memories of him.

A lost country

Schalansky was born in 1980 in Greifswald, in the GDR – a country that no longer exists. Her previous publications include the international bestseller Atlas of Remote Islands and The Giraffe’s Neck. She will talk to Karen Billiet, a reviewer with De Standaard newspaper.

Schalansky’s texts, ably translated from the German by Jackie Smith, sometimes directly animate historical accounts, using a technique like ventriloquism. This can come together to impressive effect, especially in stories that feature the narrator wandering through natural landscapes (with beautiful attention paid to birds and animals) or through archives.
New York Times

Passa Porta, Ancienne Belgique, Goethe-Institut, Meridiaan Uitgevers

portrait judith schalansky © rené fietzek

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