Monster Portraits resists review and anticipates and complicates any attempt at an adjective. I reached for 'mesmerizing' ... I tried 'magnificent' ... Finally I turned to other languages: In French one says of a moving work that it puts la vague à l’âme, a wave on the soul, and if a wave sank sharp salt teeth into one’s heart this phrase might be accurate here. Every sentence that doesn’t cut is a handle wielding the blade of the rest. Reading this was like wandering out of a dream and into an awareness of something with claws sitting on my chest.
The marriage between artwork and prose in Monster Portraits results in a beautiful book and a moving, subtle, timely meditation on otherness ... The idea that 'our world is another' is what propels the book forward. Each vignette asks questions about alienation, about the ways we divide the world into us and them, and the self-fulfilling prophecies that result.
Monster Portraits is a striking addition to this identity quilt, a broad exploration of otherness, especially biracial otherness, and specifically the otherness of Somali Americans in the 1980s ... The Samatars point out the distinction between monster and monstrous, how usually the monstrous happens to the monster ... So rather than being the cause of fear and distress, the monster is usually the victim, and the casualty of discrimination and violence. Monstrous behavior is the result of deprivation: the monster is not someone with lack of potential, but lack of opportunity ... Monster Portraits strikes gold in a genre that is entirely its own.