Helen Martin is an expert on medical art. She travels by train through Europe--Vienna, Prague, and Munich--looking for her journalist husband who has vanished for a longer time than usual. Their marriage is childless and flat. On the train, she awakens to temporary but surreal changes in her body--her breasts are enormous, her thighs huge. She meets her alter ego, Rosa, an obese and aging woman doctor, and original owner of the sizable breasts and thighs.

Rosa’s gift of a strange book-like box, containing images from Vesalius, bones, vials, leads her to many other people, including a blind intellectual, a philosophical train conductor, and a soon-to-be-murdered museum curator. These people add objects to the box, while removing others and awakening her dormant senses and identity in the process.

Helen learns that her husband disappeared while researching a story about woodblocks from the great 1543 anatomical atlas by Andreas Vesalius. The woodblocks are believed to have been destroyed in the allied bombing of Munich in World War II, but Helen suspects some have survived. She picks up the work where he left it. The rediscovery of her husband--temporarily at home in Vancouver and irritated not to find her there--comes as an anti-climax. Helen realizes she does not want him any more and boards another train to we know not where.


Using borrowed identities--both physical and metaphysical--and flashbacks to World War II, this book recounts several mysteries on different levels. Rich in symbolism and metaphor--not all of which this reviewer pretends to understand--it is nonetheless written in a flowing, almost colloquial style that leads easily from one bizarre encounter to the next. Helen’s dormant senses awaken as the work proceeds.

From a historical perspective, the account of Vesalius and the descriptions of museums and galleries correspond to conventional wisdom. But the most intriguing aspect of this book is its unusual and handsome production featuring lavish illustration. The more than three dozen sepia or full colour prints represent historical anatomical and physiological art, composite images, photographs, and even three-dimensional flap drawings, some with manuscript annotations and braille. The images form a story on their own, even as they enrich and engage with the text.



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