cover image The Extinction of Irena Rey

The Extinction of Irena Rey

Jennifer Croft. Bloomsbury, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63973-170-1

Translator and memoirist Croft (Homesick) serves up a wickedly funny mystery involving an internationally famous author and her translators. It’s 2017 and narrator Emi, who hails from Buenos Aires, is one of eight translators visiting celebrated Polish novelist Irena Ray’s house in the ancient Białowieża forest. This is the translators’ seventh “pilgrimage” to Białowieża, where they’ve gathered to put Irena’s latest tome into their respective languages. All of them worship Irena, whom Emi calls “Our Lady of Literature,” with hilariously slavish devotion. When Irena disappears, so does their collective sanity, and thus begins a twisty detective story. Efforts to track down Irena are interspersed with various “bizarre actions” involving snakes, mythological Slavic creatures, archers, patriots, and attempted murder. Each of the perils is absurdly entertaining in its own way, and the endangered forest’s fungi capture Emi’s imagination and provide Croft with a magical and metaphor-rich backdrop. Emi’s relationships with her colleagues, who are nicknamed for the languages they’re translating Irena’s novel into, further enliven the narrative as it reaches a poignant denouement. The novel’s greatest strength, however, lies in Croft’s energetic set pieces, demonstrated most mirthfully in the “catfight” that takes place between Emi and “English,” whose footnotes provide her with a juicy opportunity for revenge. This is a blast. Agent: Katie Grimm, Don Congdon Assoc. (Mar.)