3 Things About This Book
| Identity, alienation, resilience and survival | Vulgar and raw imagery and symbolism | Narrated by three generations of Taiwanese American women |
Brimming with imagery and symbolism, vulgarity and rawness, Bestiary by K-Ming Chang is a familiar story of alienation, resilience and survival told in (while being made unfamiliar by) bizarre prose saturated with magical realism. There are layers upon layers in this story, made complex by two main factors.
The first of which is that there is no traditional plot structure as the story unravels without linearity. It jumps from one point of view to another, switching between Daughter, Mother and Grandmother without much care for order. But, despite this, it is clear that Bestiary is a story of identity, though there’s a notable lack of names.
The other is the significance of vulgarity in this book. Now, I’m not someone who shies away from vulgarity in literature, but there is just way too much of it here. The first half of the book is especially bursting with mentions of body parts and bodily functions. A small part of me hesitantly believes that the closeness of filth and the Asian characters here are meant to be ironic because Asians have been stereotyped as dirty. But, a greater part of me is unsure of their significance within the story and outside of it—the potential contexts elude me despite the familiarity.
Everything considered, this book was difficult for me to read and took a lot out of me while I attempted to understand it. It is powerful, yes, and the parts I did understand broke my heart. Even so, I remain undecided if Bestiary is brilliantly creative or has a tad too much surrealism.
Nevertheless, I recommend this book for anyone who loves Asian literature and magical realism, and who has the brain power to process its rich imagery and symbolism. If you get squeamish easily but really want to read this book, be prepared to take lots of breaks in between pages.