cover image Natural History

Natural History

Carlos Fonseca, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-21630-6

Fonseca’s inventive, complex tale (after Colonel Lágrimas) reads like a literary onion, constantly revealing new narratives and layers of meaning. Fonseca follows a curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history who receives a phone call from fashion designer Giovanna Luxembourg. They share an interest in the quincunx, an elemental pattern where “nature and culture came together in the repetition of a five-pointed shape,” and Giovanna proposes a collaboration. They have many conversations while working together, but their joint exhibition remains incomplete. After Giovanna dies seven years later, the curator receives a bundle of envelopes with notes from their unfinished project. The curator starts reading them during a night of insomnia, and gradually learns about the history of Giovanna’s family. Fonseca then interjects the story of Israeli photographer Yoav Toledano, who travels to South America in the 1950s, lured by “the poetic resonance” and solitude of Tierra del Fuego, while delving into religion, philosophy, and theories about photography and archives (the text contains a series of interstitial photos and is designed to mimic file folders). The various characters’ perspectives blur the line between memory and fantasy, and their charm will keep readers along for the very intricate ride. Fonseca’s innovative puzzle box of a novel packs a powerful punch. (July)