The Extinction of Irena Rey

Jennifer Croft

The Extinction of Irena Rey
Scribe Publications
27 February 2024

The Extinction of Irena Rey

Jennifer Croft

Eight translators arrive at a house in a primeval Polish forest on the border of Belarus. It belongs to the world-renowned author Irena Rey, and they are there to translate her magnum opus, Gray Eminence. But within days of their arrival, Irena disappears without a trace.

The translators, who hail from eight different countries but share the same reverence for their beloved author, begin to investigate where she may have gone while proceeding with work on her masterpiece. They explore this ancient wooded refuge with its intoxicating slime molds and lichens, and study her exotic belongings and layered texts for clues. But doing so reveals secrets - and deceptions - of Irena Rey's that they are utterly unprepared for. Forced to face their differences as they grow increasingly paranoid in this fever dream of isolation and obsession, soon the translators are tangled up in a web of rivalries and desire, threatening not only their work but the fate of their beloved author herself.

This hilarious, thought-provoking second outing by award-winning translator and author Jennifer Croft is a brilliant examination of art, celebrity, the natural world, and the power of language. It is an unforgettable, unputdownable adventure with a small but global cast of characters shaken by the shocks of love, destruction, and creation in one of Europe's last great wildernesses.


Irena Rey is ‘Our Author’, a woman revered and adored across the globe for her brilliant novels, and her charismatic ways. No one adores her more than her tribe of translators, all of whom have gathered at her home on the edge of a forest in Poland to translate her latest work, the book they believe to be Irena’s magnum opus. Soon after the eight of them arrive, Our Author disappears.

Left alone in the personal space of their idol, the team continue to work on translating the book into eight languages, but the longer Irena stays away, the more bizarre their stay becomes. Confused, isolated and intrigued, they try to discover her whereabouts, but instead end up uncovering a web of deceit, stolen goods, and a parrot. It takes seven weeks of bickering, writing, lying, cheating and paranoia before their stay comes to a sudden end, and their beloved author is unmasked.

As a premise for a mystery novel, this is as good as it gets. But author Jennifer Croft, who is herself an internationally renowned translator, goes one step further. The novel is written from the perspective of one of the translators, the woman who is to re-write Irena’s book into Spanish. But she is not writing a memoir, she writes it as a fictional account, which has then been translated into English by an American who was also one of the translators there during those seven weeks, and she makes her presence felt with the inclusion of a foreword and footnotes throughout the story.

All of which adds layer upon layer of intrigue to this remarkable book. With two unreliable narrators, it is funny and brilliant and clever, and deluded, mad and beautiful all at once. It is also an extraordinary exploration of language and the influence words can have on us all.

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