Review | Bestiary: K-Ming Chang’s debut novel explores the myths, magic and trauma of a Taiwanese family

Ambitious and experimental in structure, the story is centred around a daughter who comes to terms with the experiences of her parents and grandparents, who moved to America before she was born.

South China Morning Post
Date: 25 Oct, 2020
By: Aoife Cantrill

Bestiary, the debut novel of K-Ming Chang, explores themes of family trauma. Photo: Handout

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang, One World.

Bestiary opens with a quest for lost gold. Agong, to whom the gold belongs, has no recollection of where he stashed the two bars. His family upturns the garden in pursuit of the misplaced treasure, first by digging holes, then with a metal detector. Agong’s two daughters run the machine over his sleeping body, thinking he might have ingested the gold and hidden it in his bowels, before they realise: “There’s nothing inside him we can spend, not unless grief is a currency.”

K-Ming Chang’s debut novel is structured around a set of myths, like this story of Agong’s lost gold, passed between Grandmother, Mother and Daughter. These stories tell their family history, allowing Daughter to come to grips with herself and the past traumas of her parents and grandparents who moved from Taiwan to America before she was born. There are hints of magical realism here – with an emphasis on the magical – as mystic events and spirits integrate seamlessly with Daughter’s reality. As the principal narrative voice comes from a child, this magic is taken at face value, an unquestionable part of the real.

In the novel’s main fable, a tiger spirit named Hu Gu Po eats children’s toes and longs to possess a human body. The spirit takes Daughter as its vessel, and she wakes up one day to find she has grown a tiger tail. The tail is arguably a metaphor for puberty, but Daughter remains oblivious to this, treating the new addition indiscriminately as a valid body part equal to a hand or a foot.

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