Three generations of Taiwanese American women are haunted by the myths of their homeland in this 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 afterward, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow.
The poet K-Ming Chang’s debut novel, Bestiary offers up a different kind of narrative, full of magic realism that reaches down your throat, grabs hold of your guts and forces a slow reckoning with what it means to be a foreigner, a native, a mother, a daughter — and all the things in between.
Chang’s novel is like no other I have ever read. She reinvents the genres of immigrant novel, queer coming-of-age story, and mother-and-daughter tale at every level, from the use of myth to the reinvention of language, mixing dialects and Chinese characters with English ... None of these dilemmas is new, but the way Chang writes about them is revolutionary ... Chang does not shy away from graphic depictions of emotional and physical violence ... Chang’s greatest accomplishment in Bestiary may be that her artistry allows the reader to see her characters’ great resilience rather than merely their pain.
Violence is not one-dimensional in Bestiary; Chang doesn't excuse it, especially when it takes place between the family members, but she has her narrators contextualize it in their stories, reaching back through memories dressed up with myths to find the beauty that coexists with hurt and trauma ... Though Grandmother, Mother, and Daughter each endure traumas, they are storytellers, their words both plumbing and transcending their pain to weave a wide range of additional emotions and experiences. Their stories color their everyday lives with magic ... Chang's facility for making even mundane or traumatic events beautiful with words is a reminder that stories are, among other things, some of our very best survival tools.