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Caspian Tiger

Ancient Rome

CASPIAN TIGER

Panthera tigris virgata, also known as Persian, Mazandaran, Hyrcanian and Turanian tiger

 

* It was the separation of their territories, less than ten thousand years ago, that led to the split into two subspecies, the Siberian and the Caspian tiger. The Caspian tiger lived in the upper reaches of the River Aras, from the forested slopes and plains of the Talysh mountain range to the Lankaran lowlands, on the southern and eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, on the northern side of the Alborz mountain range up to the River Atrek, in the southern part of the Kopet Dag mountain range as far as the Murgab River basin, as well as along the upper stretch of the Amu Darya and its tributaries, in the Amu Darya valley to the point where it reaches the Aral Sea, and in the lower reaches of the Zeravshan, upstream of the Ili, along the River Tekes and into the Taklamakan desert.

 

† Direct hunting, a dwindling habitat and a decline in its main prey populations were the reasons for the extinction of the Caspian tiger. One was shot in 1954 in the Sumbar River valley in the Kopet Dag range, on the Iran-Turkmenia border. Other reports suggest the last tiger was killed in 1959 in the Golestan National Park in northern Iran. Caspian tigers were last sighted in 1964 in the foothills of the Talysh mountains and the river basin of the Lankaran lowlands near the Caspian Sea. In the early 1970s, biologists from the Iranian Department of Environment spent years scouring the remote, uninhabited Caspian forests for them, in vain. None survived in captivity. A handful of preserved cadavers found their way into natural history collections in London, Tehran, Baku, Almaty, Novosibirsk, Moscow and St Petersburg. A stuff ed Caspian tiger was on display in the Tashkent Museum of Natural History until the mid-1960s, when it was destroyed in a fire.

 

In the evening they are hungry and restless. No meat for days. No hunting since they themselves were captured. Instincts worn down by captivity until they lie bare like gnawed bones. Fire blazes in the cats’ eyes. It is the reflection of the torches. These herald the arrival of the handlers who, each time they pass by on their rounds, peer through the bars, listen into the darkness for signs that their cargo is still alive.

 

The cage opens. Yet rather than a meal, it is a den that awaits them. Torches guide the way. Spears force them into a black, windowless hole, two wooden crates barely higher than their withers. These are rolled onto the waiting wagons. Senses sharpened by hunger. Commotion, movement, a clamour of voices: the barked orders of the handlers, the piercing whistle of the driver, the jangling of the bridles, the clunking of the corn barges against a far-off quay, the clatter of the wheels, the flick of a rope.

 

The convoy jerks into motion, sets out on its preordained path. To the innermost heart of the city. To the outermost reaches of being. The axles creak at every turn.

 

The two animals are separated by a single partition. They crouch in the darkness. They know everything and see nothing. Not the mouldering docks and the steaming knacker’s yard, not the Praenestine Gate, which they pass, not the buildings of marble and Tiburtine stone that gleam even at night. They are animals. Animals like us. Doomed like us.

 

It is still night when they are taken into the catacombs. During the last hours of darkness they turn in tight, aimless circles, strangers to one another – whether equally matched remains to be seen. The cells are musty; dungeons hidden from the sun. And when it finally rises, not one ray filters down here, into this underworld of passageways, ramps and lifts, of traps and doors.

 

Far above them a sail is now unfurled until it arches like a second sky over the stone bowl that is gradually filling with people: consuls and senators, vestal virgins and knights, citizens and freedmen, discharged legionaries – and at the very top, around the edge, the women. They have all come to see. They have come to be seen. It is a feast day, a spectacle, and anyone calling it a game has failed to appreciate the holy order inherent in it and the deadly seriousness that attends it.

 

The day is still young as the emperor steps into his box, pushes back the hood of his robe, shows off his tall sturdy physique, his stout neck, his imposing profile that everyone knows from the coins. When finally he sits down, the dungeon is unlocked, a chasm opens at ground level and a colossal animal of a kind never before seen emerges from the pit, bursts into the ring, races around the enclosure, leaps high against the parapet separating the public from the arena and, with a thunderous din, beats its mighty paws against the iron gate, stops, looks around, and for an infinite moment stands still.

 

This beast is preceded by a reputation that transcends oceans and mountains: it is said to originate from the depths of the forests of Hyrcania, the wild, rugged, evergreen land that borders the Caspian Sea. Its name is at once a curse and an incantation. It is reputed to be swift as an arrow, wild as the Tigris, the fastest flowing of all rivers, from which it takes its name. Its fur blazes red as an open fire, the sooty stripes akin to branches in the embers, the facial features finely drawn, the ears upstanding, the cheeks powerful, the muzzle bristling with white whiskers, the eyes glowing green beneath heavy brows, and on its forehead a dark symmetrical marking, the meaning of which no-one knows.

 

The creature shakes its huge head, reveals its large, terrible teeth, its two pointed fangs, its fleshy maw. It runs its tongue over its bare nose. A growl rises up from its throat; a hoarse snarl unlike anything heard before echoes through the terraces – a blood-curdling sound, after which every word becomes a whisper. And a rumour circulates, half lore, half poem: that there exist only females of its species, for the animal is savage, as savage as only a mother can be when robbed of her offspring. Chance alone bears out the assertion: beneath the tail with its brown-black rings lies concealed a fertile womb that will bear no more cubs.

 

The animal moves off again, paces the ring with silent steps, clings to the shadow cast by the walls, looks for a spot offering refuge, quiet and shelter – and finds none. There is only the greasy grey of the palisade, the barred openings, the white dazzle of the billowing togas, patches of brightness, naked faces frozen into masks. When, in fact, had they first set eyes on this animal? Not in a nightmare, as a man-eating manticore with the sneering face of a child, its bared jaws full of powerful teeth, its tail armed with stings, but in the flesh, part of an Indian delegation on the shores of the island of Samos. On that occasion too it had been a female, the only one of the group of solitary beasts to have survived the desperately long, torturous journey. It was paraded before Augustus on a wrought-iron chain as a gesture of reverence – and as a hideous wonder of nature, as rare and horrifying as the herm-like boy who had been made to stand beside it: half-naked, his whole body dusted with spices, with no arms, these having been cut off at the shoulders when he was still an infant. There they stood, the snarling animal and the mutilated human – two wondrous beings, a bizarre pair, a cue for poets to pen epigrams about the majesty of the abominable.

 

It was six years later that this creature was first seen in Rome. On the Nones of May, it was paraded at the long-awaited inauguration of this theatre, together with a rhinoceros and a patterned snake ten cubits in length. The beast was changed beyond all recognition, for it could be seen licking its handler’s hands with its rough tongue like a dog.

 

The empire of the Romans was vast, extending raggedly in every direction under the sun. Not only had they subjugated the Latins, the Volsci, the Aequi, the Sabines and Etruscans, they had also conquered the Macedonians, the Carthaginians and Phrygians, even claimed victory over the Syrians and Cantabrians – and had now tamed this monster as they would a barbarian people, driving out its wild nature with whips and crowbars, winning its trust with goat and rabbit meat, and in return granting it protection, as they did all their subjects. It seemed almost as though this tigress, who blinked away every ray of sunshine yet did not flinch from the intrusive glances of the humans, were about to be declared a citizen of this empire, like a slave about to be set free. But then from somewhere, more out of whim than conviction, came the call for revenge, which never fails to resonate, the unchanging shrill chorus of budding suspicion and sudden distrust. It was suspected that their submission was merely feigned, their gentleness but a ruse. The predator may have hidden its claws, rolled on its back and, with its belly fur exposed, asked the handler for a caress, yet it lost none of its terror. Almost nothing stokes fear as surely as having won power over an enemy to whom one still feels inferior despite the victory. For as always, there was no denying the truth: nature was not vanquished, the wild remained untamed. Every breath the animal took served as a reminder of long-held fears and impending doom – and rendered its swift death as necessary as the sacrifice of thanksgiving after victory in battle. The verdict was unanimous: the tame beast was to die in combat, like all enemies of Rome. Yet when they set about choosing an adversary, no-one could be found who dared to take up the challenge. So they killed it in its cage.

 

Chains rattle, swords clatter, a wooden hatch drops onto the sand. The ground opens. A murmur passes through the tiers. Out of the darkness a tan head appears. A lion steps into the arena, calm, composed, his head held high, framed by the cloak of his rusty-black mane. The dark wool extends down over his shoulders to his underbelly, a shaggy coat. He sees the unfamiliar feline, takes in her perfect predator’s build. The two animals stand there and eye each other for the first time – from a safe distance. Beyond the gates, a horse whinnies, a whip cracks. Otherwise all is quiet. Everyone is leaning forward to try and interpret the beasts’ expressions, their mute demeanour, their motionless stance. But nothing gives them away. No hint of superiority, nor any trace of that understanding that binds predator and prey out in the wild.

 

The lion now sits, enthroned, showing no sign of agitation, with his shoulders drawn in and his chest proud, rigid as a statue, a long-serving monarch. No-one can say which came first: his noble status or his heroic appearance. A world that does not venerate him is unthinkable. A fable that does not make him the ruler not worth telling. His mane shimmers reddish in the sunlight. His gaze is frozen. His eyes gleam amber. The furry tassel of his tail whips the grainy dry sand. He opens his jaws, wider and wider, reveals his big yellow teeth, pushes his head forward, pricks back his ears, narrows his eyes to a thin slit – and starts to roar, a groan issuing from the depths of his chest, again and again, followed by a terrible rumble that seems to rise from an even deeper abyss each time, growing ever louder and more breathless, ever more urgent and menacing. It is the howl of a raging tempest, say the Indians, the roar of a charging army, the Egyptians, the thunder of Jehovah’s fury, the Hebrews. But it might also be the elemental sound of creation announcing the end of the world.

 

The tigress drops low, tenses her long narrow body like a bowstring, presses her straggly white beard into the sand, stretches her hind legs in feline fashion, the sheer power of her muscles smouldering beneath her shoulders. With infinite caution she advances one paw, then the next, creeps and sidles closer and closer, pauses – the lion in her sights.

 

He sees her coming, but remains calm. The lion’s proverbial bravery is borne out. Fear has no hold over him. He stays stock still on his spot and awaits whatever may come. Only his tail swishes back and forth, describing the same curves over and over in the dust. Destruction blazes in his eyes. And perhaps there is truth in what is written: that his blood is hot enough to melt diamonds.

 

There comes a breeze; a pigeon is briefly trapped beneath the sail and flutters in search of open sky. In this instant the tigress launches herself, springs through the air at the lion. He rears up, the two animals collide with a dull thud, and a tangle of bodies and fur writhes in the sand, turning lightning pirouettes until flashes of bare wooden boards show through. A hissing, panting and roaring fills the theatre, mingles with choruses of hooting and bawling, swells to a deafening racket that embodies everything: the plaintive cries of an exhausted lion in a dark pit, the hoarse yelps of a tiger cub caught in a net, the weary trumpeting of a wounded elephant, the groans of a hind pursued to the point of exhaustion, the pitiful squeals of an injured pregnant sow.

 

They come from the furthest reaches of the empire; panthers, lions and leopards from Mauritania, Nubia and the Gaetulian forests, crocodiles from Egypt, elephants from India, wild boar from the banks of the Rhine and elk from the Nordic swamps. They come in ships with sails and oars, in torrential rain, heat and hailstorms, wretched from the swell of the sea, with bloodied paws and teeth filed blunt, in crates of rough elm and beech wood, like prisoners of war or condemned criminals, on some ponderous conveyance drawn by oxen which, when they turn their bowed necks beneath the yoke and catch sight of their cargo, immediately shrink back from the drawbar, snorting, their eyeballs white with terror.

 

Under towering skies the wagons cross the shimmering plains and dark forests, the barren or fertile terrain, stop and rest in the shabbiest parts of towns and villages, which are required by law to provide for the animals and their keepers. All this for Rome, that temporary, fragile centre of an empire that nourishes itself from its peripheries. But most die along the way. Carcasses thrown overboard, bloated by the water, dried out by the sun, a meal for dogs and vultures. Theirs is a cruel fate, though it seems kinder than that of the survivors.

 

They roll into Rome on high-wheeled wagons alongside the military equipment, receiving an enthusiastic welcome like all rare and precious goods, their names and places of capture emblazoned in large lettering.

 

They are kept outside the city walls, near the docks, crammed into cages, prepared for the arena where every hunter becomes prey, and those found stoical are stirred to hatred. If an animal is overly docile, it is left to starve for days on end, pelted with sharp thorns and burning brushwood, festooned with bits of jangling metal or teased with straw dolls dressed in red. Any animal that refuses to fight in the amphitheatre, that is reluctant to play the role assigned to it by others, has lost its life. The games are serious. As serious as the deaths of those men and women whose memory they honour: victorious generals, heirs of Caesar who perished before their time, the emperor’s father and mother.

 

The fight is sacred. To force the spectacle, tormentor-slaves chain the animals to one another: aurochs to elephants, rhinoceroses to bulls, ostriches to boars, lions to tigers, so that animals that would never come across each other out in the wild face each other in the semicircle of the arena – forced into hostility, robbed of their habitat, driven to a state of terror and frenzy, exposed to everyone’s gaze, tethered to existence by invisible cords, condemned to die the painful and entertaining death for which they have been kept alive. The verdict may be unequivocal, but the crime of which they are guilty remains obscure to the last.

 

It may be an old ritual, but here no-one pulls their toga over their head to spare themselves the sight of death. No god will be appeased by these steaming entrails. No dirge will extol these dead, no cenotaph will conceal their corpses, and only those that survive countless games, cheating death again and again, those that kill even the bestiarii and remain alone in the arena at the end earn themselves a posthumous reputation and a name: the shebear Innocentia and the lion Cero II, who in the end was savaged by a nameless tiger before a clamouring crowd.

 

The tigress shakes herself free, rolls to one side. The lion lashes at her with his right paw, catches her on the head, rips a flap of skin from her scalp. He scents blood, he scents the injured kid bleating for its mother that once lured him into the trap in the wastelands of the Atlas mountains, he scents victory and defeat. He hurls himself onto her back with all his might, his hind legs on the ground, buries his claws in her neck, tugs her head backwards. The tigress yelps, hisses, bares her fearful teeth. Again the lion moves to attack, drives the tigress back until her tail is brushing the walls of the arena, pursues her, pounces at her once more, aims for her throat and sinks his teeth into her neck with full force. The battle seems already decided. A soft moan escapes the tigress, like a sigh. A bloody triangular wound gapes beneath her left ear. She ducks, writhes, finally frees herself from his clutches, leaps onto the back of her adversary, buries her paws in his neck, drags him to the ground, digs her claws into his fur, springs apart from him again and lands a distance of two rods away in the swirling dust. Cheers go up, applause resounds, a fanfare plays.

 

The lion, looking dazed, gasps for air, turns his heavy head and surveys his wounds, two red gashes running across his back. Then he shakes his mane, reverts to combat stance, charges at the tigress, groaning, snorting – with a bellow of pain. She lunges out, aims for his forelegs. The two of them rear up and lash out at each other. Red, yellow and black fur goes flying. The crowd yells, erupts into chanting, shouts wild encouragement for the fight it has contrived. They call it a hunt, but there is no undergrowth, and every way out is blocked by the barricade, the high walls resembling occupied battlements.

 

They are watching a cross between an execution and a theatrical performance. A crude throng with refined tastes, accustomed to the magnitude, the sheer numbers, the monstrosity. To everything the mind can imagine. Every boundary only there to be overstepped. Their delight is laced with disgust, and their disgust with delight born purely of curiosity, the urge to act on every thought. For they, though they pride themselves on having a choice, are similarly only following their instincts, like children who throw stones at frogs just for fun.

 

Curiosity also spawns the question of who would win if all the animals from the menageries were brought here to test their powers and penned in together in this sandy abyss. A drama that simultaneously quells every fear it unleashes. A spectacle, bigger than the games staged by Augustus to honour his prematurely deceased heir. What, then, would represent the pinnacle of all ferocity? A trained tiger that tears apart a tame lion? A lion that chases rabbits around the arena, scoops them up and carries them around in its jaws like its own flesh and blood, toys with them then releases them, only to catch them again? Hecatombs of big cats being paraded and slaughtered in the arena in a single day until women faint and the ground is littered with bodies that can no longer be called bodies, lacerated, torn to pieces, drenched in blood, the heads twitching, the carcasses half-eaten, the limbs cold and rigid?

 

The Circus will be reincarnated. For once a thought comes into the world, it lives on in another. Big cats crouching on pedestals, piled into pyramids, posing in quadrille formation. They will ride on horses, glide on wheels, rock on seesaws, balance on ropes, jump through flaming hoops – use dressed-up dogs as hurdles until the crack of the whip, which is the signal to lick the sandals of the animal trainer dressed in a gladiator tunic and tow him around the ring in the chariot: lion and tigress – the social animal of the steppes, the loner of the damp forests – side by side, an unequal pair yoked together as if pulling Bacchus’ chariot as depicted in the mosaics found at ancient sites: Africa versus Asia, control versus passion. What use to them their heroic past, their honourable titles on a par with those of the Caesars? The lion has become the pet of emperors and saints. While he is fulfilling martyrs’ deepest desires, others are pillaging his realm. One privilege is gained, another lost. Cities, countries, kings demand his image on their crests. And in assuming this new role, he forgets his origins, the broad plains, the strength of the sun, hunting as a pride. And what use is it now to the tiger that it remained forgotten in Europe for a thousand years? True, its rarity did save it from becoming a frozen emblem. A strange creature classified in Latin bestiaries as either a serpent or a bird, judged by a foreign concept of virtue. They cursed it as cowardly when they should have called it clever. It evaded humans for as long as it could.

 

Look far into the future, see their sorry fate: their house will fall like that of the Julii, their lineage snuff ed out, their last descendants stuffed like bird carcasses. Forever trapped in dioramas with the dusty steppe or broken reeds in the background, hissing, with glassy eyes, mouth open wide, their mighty eye-teeth bared menacingly – or beseechingly, as at the moment of their death. A life in nature reserves and in the custody of humans, behind glass and ditches, among artificial rocks, in tiled rooms and barless enclosures, their days sacrificed to inactivity, flies swarming around their heads, an existence marked only by eating and digesting, in the air the smell of mutton, horsemeat, beef, and of warmed-up blood.

 

The audience rages. The fight ceases abruptly. The animals release their grip on each other, pause, breathing heavily. Blood trickles down their flanks. The tigress drags herself away, leans her broken body against the barricade, struggles for air. The lion stays put, muscles twitching, chaps drenched in blood, mouth brimming with foam. His gaze is dull and empty, his eyes bottomless. His ribcage rises and falls, breathing the dust. A shadow falls across the stage, a cloud obscures the sun, just for a moment.

Then all of a sudden the arena brightens; unfamiliar light illuminates the scene. An opportunity appears, like a miracle, an unimagined glimpse into the future, a way out, a departure from the preordained path, something new and different that banishes any thought of approaching death. Yet it is also the need, the urge to survive that drives the two animals inevitably towards one another in that vision. A force connected not with the end, but with a beginning. Their ritual obeys a powerful age-old rule: safeguard your clan, preserve your species before its line dies out. And when coming into heat, know no choice. If one instinct fails, let another take its place. Whoever lives must eat. Whoever eats must procreate. Whoever procreates will not perish. The signals may encourage hostility, but the message is clear, the musk in their urine an invitation to a game with consequences: menacing gesture is followed by a hint of timidity, proximity by flight, and resistance by sudden, fleeting submission.

 

They rub up against each other, nuzzle their heads together. They swipe at one another, hesitate, their paws raised, their eyes locked on each other, they fend off the inevitable, flee their beloved foe, stir the embers, feel their fervour build to the point of no return, rapt and mesmerised.

 

Eventually the orange-and-black cat slumps down, prone, and the lion steps over her, lowers his fawn body, sinks down on her, and while, for all their kinship, a vestige of unfamiliarity remains, the process is well known: he sinks his teeth into her neck with a roar until she lashes out at him, hissing, and – be it with a blind or seeing eye – they mate, driven to it only by their unnatural proximity. Nothing on earth can prevent what is now happening. Who decides what is contrary to nature and what is part of it? What are those cats doing if not heeding the call to be fruitful and multiply? Traitors to their species yet also its preservers. That their nuptials were enforced need not trouble their descendants.

 

And after a hundred days, what began as a dream reappears like an illusion, a creature resembling a chimaera, in which the parents’ nature is both doubled and halved: the tail black, but without a tassel, the belly pale, the mane short and the coat light as sand, a reddish ochre dappled with patches that gleam like stripes, the father’s stature, the mother’s profile, their unmatched silhouettes, the straight back of the lion, the roach back of the tiger. Monstrous in size, its being intrinsically divided, quick-tempered like a tiger, stoical and tenacious like a lion – a social animal condemned to solitude, a swimmer that shuns water, a popular attraction, a spellbinding sight – bastard, lion-tiger, liger.

 

They’re everywhere, aren’t they? In the colour copperplate of the three cubs from the travelling menagerie of an English performer, which were taken from their tiger mother and given to a terrier bitch to nurse, and all perished in their first year of life. In the naively rendered, colourful painting of a hybrid feline family in their enclosure, their trainer in their midst like their own child. In the footage of the sandy-coloured liger beside a lady in a silver bathing costume, a colossal animal, the world’s largest cat, a male of keen instinct and lost potency.

 

A cry resounds around the upper tiers, people wince, momentarily avert their gaze then turn their faces back to the arena. The dream ends abruptly; the offspring remain unborn. And as if to dispel the thought, the spectacle gathers pace. The entire globe and its myriad worlds dwindle to this semicircle, this inhospitable place, the bare enclosure composed of sand, spectators and stone, where flies buzz and some in the crowd fan cool air on themselves with a restless hand.

 

The tigress picks herself up and circles her adversary again. The embattled lion fends her off, but his blows miss their target. The orange cat draws back and launches into a leap, shoots through the air like a bullet, lands on the lion’s back. The huge bodies, now streaked with blood and brown with dust, roll across the arena. The lion gives a hoarse roar, shakes the tigress off , pants, stumbles, sinks to his knees. He has two gaping wounds running across his back; blood streams from deep tooth marks. Immediately the tigress leaps onto his shoulders once more, sinks her fangs into his throat. Only his mane saves him from certain suffocation. The tigress loosens her bite, gasps for air herself, great mouthfuls of lion hair catching in her teeth. At this the lion lunges out, hits her hard. The tigress sways but recovers herself, surges forward anew. They go in for another attack. The tigress throws herself on the lion, sinks her teeth into his flesh. He rears up, shakes her off, opens his mouth wide, collapses on the sand with a fading moan. And lies there, motionless.

 

The tigress surveys her work, sinks down and, trembling, licks her wounds. The stripes in her fur are barely visible for blood.

 

Emperor Claudius laughs his loud, depraved laugh. There is spittle clinging to the corners of his mouth. He stands, takes a step forward and starts to speak, keen to praise the mother whose memory today’s games are intended to honour.

He stutters, though, and the words disintegrate in his mouth. Mute, he slumps back into his seat, hearing in his head the abominable name his mother once called him: a monster. The vile word echoes inside him, a curse that has haunted him for as long as he can remember. Who could blame her? What then brought him to power? The mere fact that he was alive, the only member of the imperial family, the last of his line. Nobody had ever taken him seriously, him, the monster.

 

So it was pure chance that bequeathed him the office that was never meant for him: benefactor to the masses, ruler over life and death. He sees the marble seats of the senators, the narrow purple hem of the knights’ togas, the quizzical looks. Were it not for the fear, it would be easy to rule. Sweat trickles down his temples.

A bell rings. A gate opens. The crowd yells. A man enters the arena. A bestiarius, wearing nothing more than a tunic, no armour nor shield, bandages around his legs, in his left hand a bridle, in his right a spear which he keeps raising aloft, directing the masses. The tigress sees the half-naked figure, stalks him, prepares to pounce – but in that split second the lance pierces her chest. The tigress writhes, staggering blindly, trying to shake off the spear. Her head hangs, her eyes search, incredulous, her gaze moves over the fighter, the spectators, who are in a raging frenzy – and the animal slumps down. Her eyes fade, her gaze freezes. Bright blood flows from her nostrils; red froth streams from her open mouth. Already the bestiarius is performing his lap of honour, taking in the applause, the chants, the dancing pennants, the wild behaviour. Duty has been done, order restored, chaos defeated for a moment.

 

Gradually the grandstand empties. Quiet descends. Men come and drag the carcasses out of the arena, down into the catacombs to join those of the other animals piled there in their hundreds. The odour of decay hangs in the air. In the afternoon comes the main event, the gladiator games.

 

 

 

 

‘Caspian Tiger’ is taken from An Inventory of Losses, published in August by MacLehose Press in the UK and by New Directions in the USA. Reprinted by permission.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

was born in Greifswald in former East Germany in 1980 and studied art history and communication design. Her international bestseller, Atlas of Remote Islands, won the Stiftung Buchkunst (the Art Book Award) for 'the most beautifully designed book of the year', while her novel The Giraffe’s Neck in an English translation by Shaun Whiteside won a special commendation of the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for the best translation from German in 2015. Both books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Schalansky works as a freelance writer and book designer in Berlin, where she is also publisher of a prestigious natural history list at Matthes und Seitz.



Jackie Smith studied German and French at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and then undertook a post-graduate diploma in translation and interpreting at the University of Bradford. In 2015 she was selected for the New Books in German Emerging Translators Programme and in 2017 won the Austrian Cultural Forum London Translation Prize.An Inventory of Losses is her first literary translation.



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