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The Hollow Bones implores us to pay careful attention to the crucial lessons we might learn from our not-too-distant history.

'I remember you once told me about mockingbirds and their special talents for mimicry. They steal the songs from others, you said. I want to ask you this: how were our own songs stolen from us, the notes dispersed, while our faces were turned away?'

Berlin, 1936. Ernst Schäfer, a young, ambitious zoologist and keen hunter and collector, has come to the attention of Heinrich Himmler, who invites him to lead a group of SS scientists to the frozen mountains of Tibet. Their secret mission: to search for the origins of the Aryan race. Ernst has doubts initially, but soon seizes the opportunity to rise through the ranks of the Third Reich.

While Ernst prepares for the trip, he marries Herta, his childhood sweetheart. But Herta, a flautist who refuses to play from the songbook of womanhood and marriage under the Reich, grows increasingly suspicious of Ernst and his expedition.

When Ernst and his colleagues finally leave Germany in 1938, they realise the world has its eyes fixed on the horror they have left behind in their homeland.

A lyrical and poignant cautionary tale, The Hollow Bones brings to life one of the Nazi regime’s little-known villains through the eyes of the animals he destroyed and the wife he undermined in the name of science and cold ambition.


From the embers of history, Kaminsky weaves a cracking tale of adventure, competing loyalties and the folly of sacrificing reason on the ideological altar.

Bram Presser

In this prescient and thoughtful novel, a long-dead animal displayed in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia murmurs about the wild places of its lost life, while the story of the scientist who destroyed it exposes the collaboration between totalitarianism, corrupted science and the slaughter of people and animals.

Brenda Walker

Played out against the backdrop of impending war, The Hollow Bones is a Faustian tale of love, ambition and treachery. An ominous and beautiful novel that examines the dark appeal of power, and the lengths some men will go to achieve it.

Emma Viskic

An evocative, harrowing story of one man’s obsession to preserve nature in a glass jar, The Hollow Bones reminds us creatures of the wild belong there and we destroy their habitat at our peril. Kaminsky has magically woven the dual narratives of past and present through a unique telling of such an important historical tale, which will thrill, enlighten and reward the reader.

Heather Morris

From the horrors and dark truths of the Reich, Leah Kaminsky fashions a poignant romance within a chilling, mesmerising narrative. This is an account of the ‘scientific’ attempt to locate the origin of the Aryan race in the distant past of Tibet. The storytelling is fresh and astonishing, gently echoing with birdsong. It takes readers deep into madness and doom, while transporting them into the grace of human love, the redemptive beauty of the natural world.

Carmel Bird

There were so many Germans like Ernst Schäfer, who blew with the wind for the sake of their passions, whether scientific, artistic or musical. This bold novel reveals the perilously thin moral ice they trod, and the human cost for those closest to them.

Rachel Seiffert

In this vibrant, inventive novel, Leah Kaminsky poses knotty questions about the grey zone of collaboration, ambition and political expediency under Nazism. With a bold use of little-known historical materials, Kaminsky presents zoologist and Nazi Party member Ernst Schäfer in all his complexity. As Schäfer moves between high-ranking SS in Berlin to the mountains of Tibet, we are asked to consider what happens when science is co-opted to justify racist ideology. This vivid novel shows us a Germany deformed by pseudoscience and the pursuit of racial purity. As Schäfer is corrupted by his drive to collect and to classify, Kaminsky reveals how 'it’s the animals who make us human'.

Mireille Juchau

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    March 5, 2019

    Vintage Australia

    336 pages

    RRP $32.99

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  • EBook


    March 5, 2019

    Random House Australia

    336 pages

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