The Names of Things: A Novel


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Finalist for the 2013 Chautauqua Prize

“The writing in The Names of Things is beautiful, hypnotic, and exacting…”

“With vivid detail and thoughtful prose, Wood delivers a unique and heartbreaking story of love, loss, and the universal human experience of seeking acceptance.”

“You seize a bit of life, and life damages you.”

The anthropologist’s wife, an artist, didn’t want to follow her husband to the remote desert of northeast Africa to live with camel-herding nomads. But wanting to be with him, she endured the trip, only to fall desperately ill years later with a disease that leaves her husband with more questions than answers.

When the anthropologist discovers a deception that shatters his grief and guilt, he begins to reevaluate his love for his wife as well as his friendship with one of the nomads he studied. He returns to Africa to make sense of what happened, traveling into the far reaches of the Chalbi Desert, where he must sift through the layers of his memories and reconcile them with what he now knows.

Set in a windswept wilderness menaced by hyenas and lions, The Names of Thingsweaves together the stories of an anthropologist’s journey into the desert, his firsthand accounts of the nomads’ death rituals, and his struggle to find the names of things for which no words exist.

Anthropologist John Colman Wood’s debut novel is an exquisite, haunting exploration of the meaning of love and the rituals of grief.

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The Names of Things: A Novel