Book Bag: ‘The Loss of All Lost Things’ by Amina Gautier; ‘Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future’ by Caitlin Shetterly

Published: 9/15/2016 2:22:21 PM


By Amina Gautier

Elixir Press 

The cover of Amina Gautier’s new short story collection, “The Loss of All Lost Things,” offers an arresting but ambiguous image: what appears to be a gray, prone human figure, perhaps a statue, set against a black backdrop.

Actually, the figure is a plaster cast of a body from Pompeii, the ancient Roman town that was buried in ash and rubble from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

It’s an apt symbol for stories that explore a broad panorama of loss: of love, of family, of purpose, of children. But Gautier’s stories also offer some measure of redemption, or at least hope.

The protagonist in “Cicero Waiting” makes a direct connection with the fabled story of Pompeii. As a classics teacher, back at the private high school he once attended, he is mourning the loss of his young daughter and his own guilt over her disappearance, which took place in California when he was trying to finish his dissertation and took her to a department store on an errand.

“One minute, she was near him, playing among a rack of clothing. … The next minute she wasn’t there. He turned around to drop the economy-sized liquid detergent into his cart and she was gone. Ten weeks later, the police found his daughter’s body.”

The unnamed teacher can’t abide the kindness of his wife, who tries patiently to console him, and instead seeks to bury himself in his work — like having his students translate the Latin terms for the disaster at Pompeii, including atra for “black,” ruinas for “wreckage” and  for exspiravit for “died.”

In “Lost and Found,” a kidnapped boy is shuttled from squalid hotel to anonymous apartment to other unknown locations by “Thisman,” a sinister man who’s kidnapped him but tells him, “I wish I had a little boy just like you. I wish you were my own.” The boy wishes he could somehow be just one more item in the Lost and Found box his teacher kept in his old classroom.

And in the related title story, a husband and wife are drifting apart even as they work feverishly to try and find their kidnapped son: enlisting volunteers, seeking police and media help, putting up posters with their son’s picture.

Their younger son is ignored, the mother ordering him not to play with his brother’s toys: “How are they to focus on recovering their lost boy if they have to worry about this one too? They cannot love him right now.”

Gautier, a graduate of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, teaches creative writing at the University of Miami and has won numerous awards for her fiction. One reviewer says of her new collection, “Gautier’s stories have you by the throat, and they surprise you with their mercy.”

Amina Gautier reads from “The Loss of All Lost Things” Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books.



By Caitlin Shetterly

G.P. Putnam’s Sons 

After struggling with mysterious, often acute health problems for a number of years, writer Caitlin Shetterly learned she was allergic to genetically modified corn, as was her toddler son, Marsden.

Cutting corn from their diet seemed easy enough — until Shetterly discovered how pervasive corn was in a huge array of other prepared foods and products, like “our Waldo, popping up everywhere we least expected it.”

A freelance writer and contributor to radio programs such as “This American Life,” Shetterly wrote an article about her health travails for “Elle” magazine in 2013 but has greatly expanded on that in “Modified,” a new book in which she explores the debate over whether GMOs pose a health risk to the public.

Part memoir, part exploration, “Modified” has Shetterly traveling to the Midwest to interview farmers who grow GMO corn and soybeans, to California to talk to a research scientist opposed to the practice, and to Europe to talk to beekeepers who fear GMOs are contributing to declining bee populations.

Along the way, she looks at the powerful chemical companies like Monsanto that manufacture GMOs and, with the support primarily of Republicans in Congress, have strongly resisted efforts to introduce legislation requiring food manufacturers to reveal if their products use GMOs.

Publisher’s Weekly says “Modified” is  a welcome addition to the debate, particularly in how it’s been defined by big corporations: “The biotech giants conducting the studies that claim their products are safe don’t make that research publicly available. Shetterly’s accessible, well-researched, and damning work brings clarity to an often fuzzy debate.”

Caitlin Shetterly will read from and discuss “Modified” Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, in a location to be announced. The presentation is co-sponsored by The Miller Worley Center for the Environment at the college and the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. Visit for updated details.

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