cover image Bestiary


K-Ming Chang. One World, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-13258-6

In Chang’s vivid, fabulist debut, three generations of women contend with the mythology of their Taiwanese heritage. Chang opens in 1980, with Mother as a young girl searching for the gold her father brought from mainland China to Taiwan to Arkansas, then flashes forward to present-day California, where Mother raises Daughter on a steady stream of legends, such as that of Hu Gu Po, a tiger spirit who wants to be human but must consume the toes of children to keep her form. (Some of Mother’s toes are missing.) Daughter takes the story of Hu Gu Po as her own when she grows a tiger tail from a wound on her back, the result of a whipping Mother gave her and her brother for digging holes in their front yard. When Daughter befriends a classmate from China, the girls explore their desire for each other, as the holes in her front yard spit up letters that seem to be written by Daughter’s grandmother, leaving it up to Daughter to make sense of her lineage. The narrative arc meanders through the characters’ various relationships, but the prose is full of imagery. Chang’s wild story of a family’s tenuous grasp on belonging in the U.S. stands out with a deep commitment to exploring discomfort with the body and its transformations. (Sept.)