Bestiary by K-Ming Chang is about a girl who grows a tiger tail, and has magical things occur in and around her: rabbits birthing from her Agong, a girl she likes with a caged bird shadow, an aunt with snakes in her stomach, her brother flying like a kite, and holes that spit up letters from her ama. The voice, imagery, and metaphor are powerful and distinct. The poeticism of the novel works so well in creating a language of the family, their shared legends, and their relationships. There are exquisite lines in the novel, such as, “In wartime, land is measure by the bones it can bury.”
It is an expertly, and a heartbreakingly raw story about a daughter in understanding herself, her queerness, her family, and where she fits in it all. Themes of water (oceans, rivers, blood) act as causeways and tributaries into larger ideas, threading and relating each moment. The writing, while its own distinct being, is reminiscent of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in how language is mulled over with meaning imbued into every seam of every sentence. There are striking and powerful moments with Old Guang and Ah Zheng as pirates, and her brother on the ledge of a building about to jump off. I was thoroughly impressed with Chang’s mastery of language and hope to read her other stuff in the future.
Final Rating: 5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.