Death on the Beach: Essays from a Marginal World

"Beaches are places of mystery and contradiction," writes Per Högselius, a Swedish professor of technology and the history of science, in Death on the Beach: Essays from a Marginal World, translated by Agnes Broomé. In 15 fascinating, expansive essays that encompass wars, religions, crime novels, murders, poets, and much more, he proves his point that "the seashore is a borderland," a place that once "evoked fear and repulsion." His examples are often visually evocative. For instance, before the mid-18th century, the unfortunate Europeans who had to live by the shore faced their windows away from the sea, as it was seen as an area of death and putrefaction, where "Creation itself was incomplete."

The collection is a treasure of assemblage. Högselius deftly unites travelogue, memoir, and contemporary culture with historical facts and stories to tremendous effect. "In the Tidal Zone," for example, begins by summarizing the 2009 movie Marea de arena (Tides of Sand), from the Mexican director Gustavo Montiel Pagés. From there, Högselius discusses a cliffside hike he took in Germany with a friend from England; the historical fear of tides experienced by many Britons; accounts of quicksand in England, France, and in literature, such as in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables; then returns at last to the aforementioned film.

While many of the essays are Eurocentric, some touch on the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and the U.S. Asia is mostly absent, except for Thailand, as featured in the ubiquitous novel and movie The Beach. Regardless of location, Högselius's curious and nimble mind leads readers down a captivating path. --Nina Semczuk, writer, editor, and illustrator

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