Just before the dawn of the new millennium, a curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history receives an unusual invitation from a celebrated fashion designer. She shares the curator’s fascination with the secrets of the animal kingdom—with camouflage and subterfuge—and she proposes that they collaborate on an exhibition, the nature of which remains largely obscure, even as they enter into a strange relationship marked by evasion and elision.
Seven years later, after the designer’s death, the curator recovers the archive of their never-completed project. During a long night of insomnia, he finds within the archive a series of clues about the true history of the designer’s family, a mind-bending puzzle that winds from Haifa, Israel, to bohemian 1970s New York to the Latin American jungles. As he follows this trail, the curator discovers a cast of characters whose own fixations interrogate the unstable frontiers between art, science, politics, and religion. An aging photographer, living nearly alone in an abandoned mining town where subterranean fires rage without end, creates miniature replicas of ruined cities. A former model turned conceptual artist becomes the star defendant in a trial over the very soul and purpose of art. A young indigenous boy receives a vision of the end of the world. Reality is a curtain, the curator realizes, and to draw it back is to reveal the theater of the obsessed.
Natural History is a portrait of a world trapped between faith and irony, tragedy and farce. An urgent and impressively ambitious novel in the tradition of Italo Calvino and Ricardo Piglia, it confirms Carlos Fonseca as one of the most daring writers of his generation.