A curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history partners with a celebrated fashion designer on a project. When she dies, the curator finds within the designer's archive a mystery surrounding the designer's family that stretches from Israel to bohemian 1970s New York to the Latin American jungle, where a young indigenous boy has received an apocalyptic vision.
... a radically different novel but nonetheless a book just as deserving of critical praise ... The more than three hundred pages of this highly ambitious novel could generate in itself an essay as long or even longer than the novel ... often reminds one of Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece 2666 ... Stories and histories, woven in time and space, present events and images that at first sight may seem to be clever inventions of the author, but which are soon revealed to be true facts around which the author has skilfully woven his fictions...A fantastic world inscribed within this one that is nothing else but, in any case, the flipside of the world we read about in the newspapers. And that might be why it seems to have such a hallucinating quality, especially alongside the present feeling that we are living in a time when it has become impossible to separate facts, fake news, memories and illusions ... All of this is achieved through a skilful usage of language, or perhaps I should say of languages, as each of the novel’s five polyphonic sections bears traces—as conscious homage—of authors that Fonseca admires, while maintaining a rhythm that keeps us in suspense for the entire length of this singular narrative. Natural History is, then, a novel woven together through the resonance of its metaphors ... Within this complex game of Russian dolls that Fonseca has constructed, nothing remains more fascinating and enthralling than the experience of reading it. Amidst intertextual references and philosophical winks, Natural History is above all a story that displays the power of a mighty imagination capable of transporting us to a myriad of scenarios and situations, conveyed through entertaining and dazzling prose. Fonseca is, without a doubt, one of the great writers of a new generation that is beginning to gain a name within Hispanic literature. And from what we can see, he is far from having exhausted his creativity.
... wonderfully enigmatic ... delivers a conundrum of a story, one that depends upon neither events nor characters for its substance. Reading each page requires unwinding a riddle of themes to discover hints and clues hidden in familiar history. Fonseca presses the reader to grapple with such issues as authenticity and subterfuge, challenging the idea that anyone can truly know about the world and its inhabitants. It’s helpful to remember that the story begins with a shared appreciation of naturally occurring camouflage ... With lush prose that owes a debt to translator Megan McDowell, Fonseca weaves the fictional threads of Giovanna’s life into a fabric of real history ... Yet no matter how seemingly obscure a reference may appear to be, no detail in this book is superfluous. Fonseca ties each one into recurring motifs that illustrate his interpretation of perception and reality, faith and irony, tragedy and farce. Though sometimes inscrutable, he presses the reader to consider the ways that societies communicate – and how, in turn, perspectives shape perceptions in the arts and in politics.
In the tradition of what Ricardo Piglia has called conceptual literature, we are presented here with an intellectual puzzle that reminds us that it is also possible to be passionate about ideas ... the novel quickly becomes a profound meditation on the blurry line separating humanity from animality. Unearthing fascinating references to the history of camouflage, it finds in the chameleonic dissemblance of animals and in the phenomenon of animal mimesis a resounding metaphor through which to think about questions regarding identity ... The novel then becomes a voyage of discovery that in turn leads us readers to many other voyages, opening roads that lead from New York to the Caribbean tropics, and from Israel to the Central American jungle. Guided by its obsessive characters and their fixations, the book elegantly takes the reader for a tour of Latin America’s labyrinthine contemporary history ... All of that, and more, encapsulated within five parts that could well have worked as five short independent novels, were it not for the detective plot that skillfully weaves them together from beginning to end ... The narrative’s kaleidoscopic variety ties in neatly with the novel’s conceptual premises regarding mimicry. It also forces the reader to wonder: what defines an author if narrative unity can no longer be found at the level of style? ... a novel whose success is predicated upon the reverberation of its images. It builds, through metaphors and the subtleness of its linguistic virtuosity, a universe where nature and culture finally meet at the end of a long voyage.