Publisher's Note:  

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.

LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • “Epic and intimate at once, Bestiary brings myth to visceral life. K-Ming Chang's talent exposes what is hidden inside us. She makes magic on the page.”—Julia Philips, author of Disappearing Earth

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 afterward, 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.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Random House

Bestiary: A Novel

by K-Ming Chang

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Overall Review:  

Bestiary is a book that holds the narrative of not just one character but several, weaving stories of the past with those of the present and sharing wisdom and life experiences from one generation to another. The book begins with Mother telling a story of warning to her Only Daughter, and it is obvious that storytelling is the main way Mother teaches Daughter about life and how to move through it as a woman. 

Reading the synopsis left me not quite sure what to expect from this book, and so I went into it with an open mind and curiosity that I would encourage other readers to approach it with as well. It's not an easy or heart-warming read by any means; however, it does give us a glimpse of what it might be like to come from a family that has immigrated to America for a better life, and how bittersweet it must be to leave your homeland and all that you know of life and raise children in a foreign land.

Folklore and myths are the mode of communication between generations to convey what has happened in their lives, and often something a little out of the ordinary occurs that may be just a tall tale, or magical-realism at its most real. This book reads like some sort of fairy-tale inside of a dream with Daughter finding that she has grown the tail of a tiger, and stories about a woman that bites off the toes of unsuspecting children. This isn't your typical novel that you can kick back and enjoy, and it won't be everyone's cup of tea; however, for the more adventurous reader this is a book that will fill the gaps in your bookshelf that more mundane titles just can't fill.

Review of Digital Advance Reading Copy

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  1 religious profanity; 4 derogatory names; 23 scatological words; 17 anatomical words; 8 F-Word derivatives. 

Violence/Gore:  A brief report of a woman beating her husband with a kitchen spoon and various other household objects; a man talks about scars that can be seen on his body as old war wounds; a girl imagines beating her father to death; a creepy story is told and mentioned several times about a woman who eats children's toes and how she stores them in a pouch made of skin, she refers to the toes as peanuts that have been shelled; chickens are mentioned to be kicked; a child is whipped and hit with various items by their father; pests and wild animals are mentioned to be killed; in a brief report a child is beaten by her father as punishment and she is mentioned to taste blood in her mouth; a character is reported to vomit up some blood; a report of a man breaking into a house and a woman throwing a vase at him in self-defense; a girl imagines turning into a tiger and killing her father; a brief scene occurs where a boy hits a crow with a baseball bat and kills it, a brief description of the crow's body is given and it is mentioned that the heart is still seen to be beating and the body is bloody; a report is made of a woman who owns a severed head; a mention is made of a book that describes a girl almost drowning and being saved by a dog; a woman is mentioned to be killed in a brutal way with a brief description of the method used; a man is reported to have been building a wall and dies and his co-workers bury him at the work site; a woman is reported to prick her daughter with a needle to prove that she bleeds and is human; a man is reported to sleep in the body of a dead moose to keep warm, a brief description of the moose's body is given; a tree is reported to have fallen and landed on several people, injuring them; a report is made of a character watching crows pick at and eat a dead squirrel; children fight with their father in a scene and blood, bruises and injuries are sustained; a report is made of severed heads being seen by a character; a woman is mentioned to tightly squeeze a man's penis to punish him for something he did; a woman is reported to have been injured by a knife cutting her arm and hand; a fire is reported to have destroyed a building and people are possibly trapped inside; a woman is reported to miscarry and blood is described in a scene; a minor girl is employed at a chicken farm and briefly describes having to kill snakes to keep the chickens safe; a man is mentioned to shoot a gun erratically; a dog is reported to have been shot; a creepy extended scene is described where a man births a rabbit that is stillborn with some detailed description of the scene; a creepy scene is briefly described of a woman with snakes crawling inside of her; a report is made of several boys being shot and killed and snakes eating their bodies; a woman is mentioned to push her daughters off a bridge.

Sex/Nudity:  A minor girl is depicted drawing a picture of the body and anatomy and showing her friend the picture, comparing it to her body, talks about sex; a report is made of two girls seen kissing; a sexual act is reported to occur between a girl and a boy at work; an object is mentioned to look like a nipple; a man is reported to be having an extramarital affair; a boy describes a building as looking like a sexual organ; a TV show is mentioned to show a couple making love; minor girls compare breasts; two girls are reported to kiss in one brief scene; a sex education class is referred to; a girl and her mother talk about sexuality and fertility in a brief scene; a couple kisses in a brief scene; masturbation is mentioned; two girls kiss and are mentioned to remove their clothing and touch each other; strange sexual stories are told in a brief scene.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Child abuse; domestic abuse; childhood trauma; war; death; homosexuality; theft.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Adults are mentioned to be drunk; a man drinks beer; a woman smokes a cigarette.

Reviewed By Lydia
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