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Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Publication Date : September 29th 2020

Publisher : One World / Random House

Genre : General Fiction (Adult) / LGBTQIA

Pages : 272

Three generations of Taiwanese American women are haunted by the myths of their homeland in this spellbinding, visceral debut about one family’s queer desires, violent impulses, and buried secrets.

One evening, Mother tells Daughter a story about a tiger spirit who lived in a woman’s body. She was called Hu Gu Po, and she hungered to eat children, especially their toes. Soon afterwards, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow: Holes in the backyard spit up letters penned by her grandmother; a visiting aunt arrives with snakes in her belly; a brother tests the possibility of flight. All the while, Daughter is falling for Ben, a neighborhood girl with strange powers of her own. As the two young lovers translate the grandmother’s letters, Daughter begins to understand that each woman in her family embodies a myth–and that she will have to bring her family’s secrets to light in order to change their destiny.

With a poetic voice of crackling electricity, K-Ming Chang is an explosive young writer who combines the wit and fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi with the subversive storytelling of Maxine Hong Kingston. Tracing one family’s history from Taiwan to America, from Arkansas to California, Bestiary is a novel of migration, queer lineages, and girlhood.

*** Note: I received e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to publisher. ***

Bestiary was queer fiction that revolved around main character’s family history and folklore. It was about life of Taiwan-American family, their life before and after migration, poverty, survival, domestic abuse, trauma, resilience, myths and legend.

Plot was weird. It was part LGBTQ love story, coming of age, and part magical realism about family connection and story of three generations of Taiwanese American women, their family history and queer lineage, and about human nature and experiences told through lots of metaphors and anthropomorphism.

What I understand is – It started with how main characters’ family journeyed to west, to Arkansas, story of Hu Gu Po- a tiger spirit living in a woman’s body who hungered for children’s toes. And soon after hearing this story, main character woke up with tiger tail, her love for new girl in school- Ben- who was also strange and poor like her and help her in understanding her family history through letters of grandmother popping out of holes in backyard.

Her father was abusive and bully so was her grandmother. I didn’t like them and I don’t understand most of the story related to grandmother. Her father’s and grandfather’s stories made most sense. I liked their migration stories and great-grandfather’s relationship with pirate, and main character’s  relationship with Ben. Her mother’s sisters’ stories were weird that was told through grandmothers’ letter for each of her daughters.

Writing was poetic, bizarre and very gritty and raw. It was first person narrative non-linear storyline that told the life story of Mother, Grandmother and the Daughter from mostly Daughter’s perspective who remains unnamed throughout the book. It was highly imaginary, wild, and without any boundaries. There was violence, uncomfortable and gross narration with lots of pissing, shitting, and other bodily descriptions; and sky, moon and stars were described in most unusual way. Here are some sentences about them, some were impressive while some were weird and gross-

“Sky is cussing rain at us in the afternoon…”

“It was early in the night and the sky was bad-breathed, freckled with stars like white bacteria on the tongue.”

“Clouds mopping up the sky’s spilled light.”

“One time we saw Ben’s father stand here at the edge and pee into the hole, competing with the sky to see whose rain reached the deepest roots.”

“Strands of the blood whipped so high, the sky was red for days and everyone thought it had miscarried the sun.”

“The morning we leave, the sun sags in the sky like a scrotum.”

my tongue slipped into her nostril and a pebble of dried mucus dissolved on my tongue.”

It was most unusual book I ever have read. I didn’t get most of the story. I struggled while reading this book. It’s as if I’m missing the point and that feeling got worse by the end. My mind got lost in trying make sense of all things. After I read reviews, I feel like it’s only me who couldn’t figure out this book. This book is definitely not for me.

Overall, Bestiary was weird, unusual, graphic, and lyrical literary fiction, a story of trauma, survival, family, and queer lineage. Some readers will like this while some wouldn’t. 


I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know in comments what do you think about this book and my reviewhave you read this book already or going to add it to TBR. Which is most unusual book you have read?

Happy Reading!

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0 Comments

  1. Interesting review! I’ve heard mixed things about this book, but it very much sounds weird hahah. I might check it out because I’m a fan of odd books and magical realism! But yeah the bodily description stuff is really interesting & it’s not something I’ve seen described before in this way, which is both cool and weird.

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booksteacupnreviews

Hi, I'm Yesha, an Indian book blogger. Avid and eclectic reader who loves to read with a cup of tea. Not born reader but I don't think I’m going to stop reading books in this life.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

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