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The Hollow Bones

The Hollow Bones 1

by Leah Kaminsky

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 05/03/2019

5/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $32.99 $26.75

The Hollow Bones implores us to pay careful attention to the crucial lessons we might learn from our not-too-distant history.

I remember you once told me about mockingbirds and their special talents for mimicry. They steal the songs from others, you said. I want to ask you this: how were our own songs stolen from us, the notes dispersed, while our faces were turned away?

Berlin, 1936. Ernst Schäfer, a young, ambitious zoologist and keen hunter and collector, has come to the attention of Heinrich Himmler, who invites him to lead a group of SS scientists to the frozen mountains of Tibet. Their secret mission: to search for the origins of the Aryan race. Ernst has doubts initially, but soon seizes the opportunity to rise through the ranks of the Third Reich.

While Ernst prepares for the trip, he marries Herta, his childhood sweetheart. But Herta, a flautist who refuses to play from the songbook of womanhood and marriage under the Reich, grows increasingly suspicious of Ernst and his expedition.

When Ernst and his colleagues finally leave Germany in 1938, they realise the world has its eyes fixed on the horror they have left behind in their homeland.

A lyrical and poignant cautionary tale, The Hollow Bones brings to life one of the Nazi regime’s little-known villains through the eyes of the animals he destroyed and the wife he undermined in the name of science and cold ambition.

Contemporary fiction
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
Random House Australia
Country of origin:
Dimensions (mm):

"From the embers of history, Kaminsky weaves a cracking tale of adventure, competing loyalties and the folly of sacrificing reason on the ideological altar."
Bram Presser

"In this prescient and thoughtful novel, a long-dead animal displayed in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia murmurs about the wild places of its lost life, while the story of the scientist who destroyed it exposes the collaboration between totalitarianism, corrupted science and the slaughter of people and animals."
Brenda Walker

"Played out against the backdrop of impending war, The Hollow Bones is a Faustian tale of love, ambition and treachery. An ominous and beautiful novel that examines the dark appeal of power, and the lengths some men will go to achieve it."
Emma Viskic

"An evocative, harrowing story of one man’s obsession to preserve nature in a glass jar, The Hollow Bones reminds us creatures of the wild belong there and we destroy their habitat at our peril. Kaminsky has magically woven the dual narratives of past and present through a unique telling of such an important historical tale, which will thrill, enlighten and reward the reader."
Heather Morris

"From the horrors and dark truths of the Reich, Leah Kaminsky fashions a poignant romance within a chilling, mesmerising narrative. This is an account of the 'scientific' attempt to locate the origin of the Aryan race in the distant past of Tibet. The storytelling is fresh and astonishing, gently echoing with birdsong. It takes readers deep into madness and doom, while transporting them into the grace of human love, the redemptive beauty of the natural world."
Carmel Bird

Leah Kaminsky

Leah Kaminsky is a physician and award-winning writer. Her debut novel, The Waiting Room, won the prestigious Voss Literary Prize.

She conceived and edited Writer MD, a collection of prominent physician-writers, which starred on Booklist and is co-author of Cracking the Code, with the Damiani family. She holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • Review by Robert at Angus and Robertson

    by on

    Magical realism dances with dire Nazi evil to cast a vital new perspective on well-known history in this masterful new novel from Leah Kaminsky, our fiction pick for March.

    As children, Ernst and Herta shared their love of birds and nature, with the whole world before them. Years later, they reunite as a young and handsome couple in mid-30’s Berlin, but much has changed. Ernst is now an ambitious zoologist, keen to curry Nazi favour to ensure funding for an expedition to Tibet, while the beautiful and spirited Herta will support him in any way she can. Both will soon come to learn that the Third Reich requires more than simple compromise, threatening the joy and humanity of their lives and country.

    Based on the very real 1938 Schafer Expedition, a Himmler-funded quest to find the roots of Germany’s Aryan race in the Himalayas, this book is superbly researched and brilliantly done. Kaminsky uses the rise of Nazism as a pervasive backdrop for the story of Ernst and Herta, two lives that reflect a culture lost in fear and greed and headed for inevitable turmoil. This book is about how people become distorted, losing their connection to nature and love as their energies are given over to mad science and cold, brutal ideology. This might sound oppressive, but be assured that the book is immensely enjoyable. The writing is immediately captivating, its themes layered deftly by Kaminsky, and the story flows beautifully as a result. You will come to love the music-loving and slightly rebellious Herta, who is the poetic heart of the book. Her wry humour in the face of Nazi doctrine is the perfect foil to Ernst’s stuffiness.

    The story is also populated with many birds and animals, most notably a panda that unexpectedly appears to provide wise narration from a museum in 2019. This may sound improbable but it works splendidly, allowing Kaminsky’s characters to reveal their true natures in their interactions with the animals. In doing so, this book is astonishingly clever in the way it delivers its case to the reader. There is so much meaning present in the details, and yet it is restrained and softly placed. Kaminsky pleads for us to put all creatures into perspective, and to be wary of mad pursuits that punish the meek. That she does so with such poetic and moving storytelling is impressively powerful.

    Leah Kaminsky has achieved a wonderful thing with "The Hollow Bones", and I recommend this book to readers and book clubs everywhere. It’s a thought-provoking and entertaining read that leaves you reflecting on life, love, nature, and the limits of ambition.