Judith Schalansky

An Inventory of Losses

(German title: Verzeichnis einiger Verluste)
ca. 252 pages
Judith Schalansky
Foto: Judith Schalansky
© Jürgen Bauer

Judith Schalansky, born in Greifswald in 1980, lives in Berlin where she works as a writer, editor and book designer. Her work, which includes the internationally successful bestsellers Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln and the novel Der Hals der Giraffe, has been translated into more than twenty languages and has won several prizes. Verzeichnis einiger Verluste was longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize and the Europese Literatuurprijs 2021.

Awards (selection):
2009 ›Most beautiful book of the year‹ by the Book Art Foundation for Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln

2009 Residential grant from Villa Aurora, Los Angeles

2012 ›Most beautiful book of the year‹ by the Book Art Foundation for Der Hals der Giraffe

2018 Wilhelm Raabe Prize for Literature

2020 Christine Lavant Prize

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Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (DAV)

Longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize

Longlisted for the Europese Literatuurprijs 2021

Longlisted for the 2021 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature

»There are no gains without corresponding losses, no losses without corresponding gains.« Agnes Heller

»Western man’s inclination to value what is extinct more than what still exists seems to be one of its more rationally almost incomprehensible qualities, for there could be no other way to explain the strange fascination with the Tasmanian wolf.« Die Neue Brehm-Bücherei natural history series


World history is full of things that have gone astray – willfully destroyed or mislaid over the course of time. In her new book, Judith Schalansky dedicates herself to that which the lost leaves behind: dying echoes and disappearing steps, whispers and legends, apostrophes and phantom pains.

Beginning with objects from nature and art like an incinerated painting of Caspar David Friedrich’s, an extinct species of tiger, a Roman baroque villa, the holy writings of a vanished religion or a sunken island in the Pacific, she presents a panorama of the long lost and disappeared, a panorama which traces the world’s blank spaces together with those within natural and cultural history while opening up areas of knowledge where delivery has failed. The protagonists of these short stories are outsiders: a bizarre old man hoarding the knowledge of humankind in his garden in Tessin, a lunar researcher from Bohemia who gives up all earthly curiosity for a position in the Archive of the Moon, an aged Greta Garbo who dreams of appearing on the silver screen as Dorian Gray, Judith Schalansky’s own father who left the family before she could even form a memory of him. These texts speak about beginnings and endings – and at the same time are an autobiographical trip into a country that no longer exists: childhood, the GDR of the 1980s.

Each of the twelve stories in this collection sketches its own world through a subject-specific language, a world in which the boundaries between presence and absence have disappeared as much as have those between fiction, memoir and essay, while simultaneously questioning the reliability of our individual and collective memories as well as future instruments of transmission. Moreover, every one of the 16-page stories begins and ends with a black page, which, as in a photofit picture, suggests more than depicts the lost. As such, the collection proves itself to be a document of the power of print, the book a more efficacious and long-lasting medium of transmission than any other.

After her Atlas of Remote Islands, in this, her Inventory of Certain Losses, Judith Schalansky once again sounds the spaces between reality and imagination, truth and myth, fact and fiction. The result is a lively evocation of the lost and the remote, which suggests that perhaps the difference between presence and absence is only marginal as long as memory still exists – that, and a literature which reveals just how close preservation and destruction, loss and creation, really are.


»This genre-defying catalog of things that no longer exist takes on a variety of styles, from researched histories to richly imagined narratives. A vanished island, the Caspian tiger, Sappho's lost poems: Each gives rise to a fascinating study of disappearance.« The New York Times

»Schalansky is marvellously adept at enabling ›everything to be experienced‹ but most especially from the point of view of those who are lost to view. […] As we deal with the consequences, emotional and material, of a pandemic, it is hard to imagine a better guide to the resources of hope than Schalansky’s deeply engaging inventory.« Michael Cronin, The Irish Times

»A fine example of everyone’s favourite genre: the genre-defying book, inspired by history, filtered through imagination and finished with a jeweller’s eye for detail [...] This playful meditation on lost objects, from paintings to actors and islands, is a satisfying mix of history, imagination and detail« John Self, The Guardian

»Weaving fiction, autobiography and history, this sumptuous collection of texts offers meditations on the diverse phenomena of decomposition and destruction« Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times ›Books of the Year‹

»With this collection of illuminating meditations on fact and fiction, Schalansky cements her reputation as a peerless chronicler of the fabulous, the faraway, and the forgotten« Publishers Weekly

»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« Kirkus Review

»The collection often reads like a disguised and rather ingenious form of memoir, in which vanished landmarks act as foils for the author's own excavations of lost time [...] Schalansky is at her strongest when she has least need to compromise. But there is no doubt that at these times, her work is very strong indeed.« Lorien Kite, Financial Times

»Twelve fictional essays comprise this stunning work depicting animals, places, objects, and buildings that are lost forever. [...] In this smooth and expert translation, internationally best-selling author Schalansky (The Giraffe's Neck) illuminates these ›lost‹ inventoried gems with thorough research and details, making us ponder their transitory quality« Library Journal

»A cabinet of curiosities that can be dipped into with pleasure and profit« Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph

»A collection of twelve pieces, some essays, some short fiction, some pitched in between, on various things that have been lost [...] most stimulating« David Mills, The Sunday Times

»Pure gold storytelling« SJON
»With an empirical gaze that drives her poetic pen and the realisation that the greatest miracle in the world is the world itself, [Schalansky] proves that you can write true and enchanting at the same time.« HUMO (Belgium)

»An Inventory of Certain Losses is a dazzlingly beautiful book, particularly successful in content and form. A wonderful piece of work, for which no praise is too much. It is a book that effortlessly commands [our] full attention and focus. At the same time, [Schalansky] succeeds in stunningly elevating this book to a true work of art itself. An absolute blessing and triumph for literature.« Philippe De Cleen, Cutting Edge (Belgium)

»The most wondrous book of the year: by taking the vanished and turning it into a great piece of literature, the author and book designer has performed a feat of magic.« Alexander Cammann, DIE ZEIT

»Schalansky finds a unique tone for every story. ... At times historicising, at times ostentatiously erudite with flights of ornamental grammar, and then once again spare, sober, simple. This is no mass-produced home through which Schalansky leads us; indeed, behind every door of this fascinating villa a new cabinet of curiosities awaits ... « taz. die tageszeitung

»The degree to which changes of historical consequence are mirrored in our personal lives: this is what novelist Judith Schalansky in her poetic Inventory of Certain Losses has brought into a form which is both profound and enjoyable to read.« Andrea Köhler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»Like everything Schalansky does this pleasingly arranged collection almost feels like the perfect example of how books on the art of storytelling should be done. The form the investigation takes cannot be derived from the object, but itself remains a discovery every time.« Richard Kämmerlings, Die literarische Welt

»Judith Schalansky’s latest book is a collection of tales on an important theme: loss. What we gain, however, is literature, the kind one encounters on only the rarest of occasions.« Andreas Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»A literary sensation.« Stern

»These texts, the result of painstaking research with many different source materials and deep deliberation, do not always have to lead to profound expansions of consciousness. Their appeal lies in their depiction of grief as something which intimately belongs to us and is ultimately inseparable from our experience. These are stories we dearly need, stories of humility.« Der Tagesspiegel

»[Schalansky] transforms the many worthwhile little details into a wonderful cabinet of curiosities. One breathlessly makes one’s way through this book like a zoo for extinct creatures.« Jörg Magenau, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»Her sumptuous way of telling stories preserves what we have long forgotten, believed, or possibly did not even know. In quick times like our own her work is like a lighthouse for which all waves are the same: it illuminates all that we perceive too casually.« Spiegel Online

»An Inventory of Certain Losses has just appeared with Suhrkamp and already the magnificent title as well as the black-and-silver dust-jacket reveal, with typically Schalansky-esque understatement, her theme: people, animals, cultures, inventions, what all disappears!« ZEIT Magazin

»Twelve life-affirming, must-read stories ... « Deutschlandfunk Kultur

»[Schalansky] is one of her generation’s most important creators of literature.« Galore


Judith Schalansky reads from An Inventory of Certain Losses:


Other publications

Der Hals der Giraffe/The Giraffe's Neck (2011)

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Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (DAV), German Book Club (Büchergilde Gutenberg), German Radio Play (SWR), German Stage Adaptations (Schauspiel Frankfurt - also performed at various other German Theatres; Maxim Gorki Theatre Berlin)