Strange Beasts of China
Author: Yan Ge
Publication Date: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC
CONTENT WARNING: suicide, gore, mention of mass killing, self-harm, murder
In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its fabled beasts. These creatures live alongside humans in near-inconspicuousness—save their greenish skin, serrated earlobes, and strange birthmarks. Aided by her elusive former professor and his enigmatic assistant, our narrator sets off to document each beast and is slowly drawn deeper into a mystery that threatens her very sense of self. Part detective story, part metaphysical enquiry, Strange Beasts of China engages existential questions of identity, humanity, love, and morality with whimsy and stylistic verve.
Although I wasn’t quite sure what I had expected from this book, it wasn’t this. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The first thing that I noticed was that rather than it being a fluid story, each chapter was focused on a single type of beast. While each chapter could be viewed as related to the others, they weren’t exactly linear, instead functioning as a collection of short stories.
Each chapter was an intriguing combination of scientific information, mythological tales, and how these are interwoven into the everyday life of one woman. There was a strong sense of magical realism throughout the story, with the various beasts playing different roles in the society of Yong’an.
I loved the writing style of the author. There was a juxtaposition between traditional beliefs and an emphasis on modernity, as well as the cost of progress on both people and their entire way of life.
There were some things I struggled with, such as how the professor always knew what the narrator was doing. There was a lot of information thrown in, and at times it was difficult to follow. Finally, and this is definitely more of a “me” problem, but it always felt as though there was something going on in the book that was just over my head, and I constantly had a sense that I was missing something.
Categories: Book Review