Bestiary by K-Ming Chang is a story of family, lineage, magic, trauma, and discovery. Following the lives of a Mother, Daughter, and Grandmother, it tells the tale of a Taiwanese American family, jumping around in their lives and intervening their stories with magic and myth.
The main kicking off character is the Daughter, who grows a tiger’s tail soon after being told the story of Ho Gu Po, a tiger spirit who inhabits a woman’s body and eats the toes of children. Together with Ben, a neighborhood girl whom Daughter has fallen in love with, Daughter translates the letters of her Grandmother, learning more and more about the history of the family.
While the story has an overarching narrative, it takes the form of vignettes, with every chapter or few chapters being focused around one part of the family, one person or moment, self contained for the most part but ultimately linking back to the greater narrative. Whether it’s the story of an aunt who turns everything red, or the story of an ancestor who fell for a pirate and birthed a crab daughter, each smaller story adds to the larger piece of the family history, telling the reader where it’s been, and giving insight to where it’s going.
One key part of the story are the letters from Grandmother that Ben and Daughter are translating. Coming up from holes dug into the ground after an offering is delivered, they primarily tell the story of the Grandmother’s daughters, including Daughter’s mother; who they were, their childhood and strange birth, filling in pieces for the Daughter to knit together.
Bestiary was a strong read, and one I could not recommend enough to anyone interested in a fantastical take on a familial story.