cover image The Lamentations of Zeno

The Lamentations of Zeno

Ilija Trojanow, trans. from the German by Philip Boehm. Verso (PRH, dist.), $19.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-78478-219-1

The stark desolation of Antarctica provides the backdrop for this novel about lost love, death, and endurance. In the wake of a traumatic breakup with his wife, geologist Zeno turns to lecturing aboard a cruise ship that carries tourists to Antarctica. He relishes the opportunity to talk about ice with paying customers rather than students. On board with the other lecturers, Zeno develops his own dangerous liaisons and comes to terms with his haunting despondency. The loss of his lover parallels the death of the glaciers he knows so intimately. “The lie of eternal love attunes us to the lie of eternal life,” he tells us. The first-person narration is punctuated by strange passages of stream-of-consciousness musings that add up to their own parallel narrative. The slow-motion destruction of the fragile environment and the consequences of climate change also figure prominently throughout the story—one that builds to a stunning conclusion on the high seas. Trojanow harnesses his lyrical skill and wows the reader when he focuses on describing Zeno’s exploration of the seemingly monochromatic yet thrilling landscape. The book is a sophisticated drama about a scientist’s love for a continent that eludes his slippery hold. (May)