cover image Monster Portraits

Monster Portraits

Sofia Samatar, illus. by Del Samatar. Rose Metal (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (84p) ISBN 978-1-941628-10-2

Issues of otherness and self run through this poetic blend of linked fiction, travelogue, memoir, and encyclopedia of curiosities by Samatar (The Winged Histories) that is as remarkable as it is perplexing. Opening with an epigraph by 16th-century French royal barber surgeon Ambroise Paré, whose compendium On Monsters and Marvels serves as something of a spiritual predecessor, this volume revels in its own erudition. Real-world locations and events are woven in with fictional ones with a sometimes disconcerting ease as intricate illustrations by Samatar’s brother, Del, complement accounts detailing the wonders the narrator and her brother discover on their travels “to study monsters in their environment.” Those monsters have weddings in which bystanders are left dead following the bridegroom’s dance, or visit from the depths of the sea to say how wonderful humans would find their cities—if only they could breathe underwater. These accounts often bleed into meditations on the nature of monstrousness in a world in which anything that is other could be seen as such. In one piece, “The Early Ones,” Samatar invokes Paré before writing, “In the realm of language, the opposite of monster is a catalogue.” In the case of this slim, evocative, and challenging book, it seems instead that they are one and the same. (Feb.)