[A] wall of fifty or sixty glass demijohns, wired tight against earthquakes, exhibit creatures from the [United East India] Company’s once-vast empire.

A pickled dragon of Kandy…a slack-jawed viper of the Celebes…A baby alligator from Halmahera…The alligator’s umbilical cord is attached to its shell for all eternity….the jar of a Barbados lamprey…[Its] mouth is a grinding mill of razor-sharp V’s and W’s.

Preserved from decay by alcohol, pig bladder, and lead, they warn not so much that all flesh perishes—what sane adult forgets this truth for long?—but that immortality comes at a steep price.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet


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