The debut novel by the poet K-Ming Chang is a daring attempt to tell the story of three generations of women from a Taiwanese family who emigrated to the USA. But the geographical reality for the most part of the book, seem to be irrelevant here – their stories sound as if they are myths in themselves, fantastic tales of monsters, ghosts and magical phenomena, happening in an unspecified place and time.
Our guide for most of this journey is Daughter, a third-generation immigrant, who wakes up one morning with a tiger’s tail. This may be a sign that she was marked by the tiger goddess Hu Gu Po. Soon after, Daughter falls in love with Ben, a young, rebellious emigrant from China who is more of a bird than a tiger. Letters written by Ama, the grandmother who was the first to come to the USA together with her husband, begin to appear from the holes in the garden – Daughter translates them and puts together a traumatic past. Some chapters are told from the Mother’s perspective – the violent fate of a family traveling across the United States in search of its place.
Bestiary is filled with fantastic images, but unlike many other texts in the spirit of magical realism, which focus on beauty, here ugliness, sand, slime, and tears are everpresent. Everything is extremely carnal, without any taboos. It is also hard to resist the impression that something is missing when reading – K-Ming Chang’s prose is so thick and incomprehensible at times. It is a pity that there isn’t at least a short afterword which would bring the symbolism of tigers, birds and snakes in the beliefs of the indigenous people of Taiwan a bit closer to the readers – I think that everyone who ventures into the pages of Bestiary will want to read about it!