BESTIARY – K-Ming Chang

Jie says she once saw two girl ghosts kissing in the creek. I mishear her and think she means they were cleaning the creek. Why? I say.  Jie says, Because a god made them want but didn’t give them a word for it.

Bestiary (One World, a Random House imprint, 2020)is K-Ming Chang’s gritty and magical debut novel.  It’s ugly and foul.  It’s vulgar and disgusting. It’s covered in mud and bodily fluids.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears. Semen.  It breathes.  It pulses.  It snarls.  It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve read this year.

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ve likely realized that I have a special place in my booklovin’ heart for magical realism and the cultural significance of storytelling.  As such, it doesn’t come as a shock that I’d pick up this novel of three generations of Taiwanese American mothers and daughters.  Wrapped in Taiwanese folklore and mythology, Bestiary embraces and exposes family secrets, childhood scars, blatant discrimination, and queer desires with no apologies and no warnings.

It’s difficult to formulate a review of a book like this, because it’s so different.  I heard echoes of Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” that can’t be denied, but this novel is more raw, more crude, more visceral.  It may not find its way on my list of favorites and it’s not one I would recommend to everyone, but it certainly is a remarkable piece of literature, history, and storytelling.

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