A New York Times Editors' Choice and Notable Book of 2021
"Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror of 2021"—The Washington Post
From one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Chinese literature, an uncanny and playful novel that blurs the line between human and beast…
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.
Yan delivers a noirish, stylish bestiary in her English-language debut, reminiscent of such Chinese classics as The Book of Mountains and Seas and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In the mythical land of Yong'an City, humans live alongside a variety of quirky, beautiful beasts who are often almost indistinguishable from their human neighbors, aside from mild behavioral or physical characteristics. Sacrificial Beasts, for instance, have low-hanging earlobes with sawtooth edges. Sorrowful Beasts cannot smile, or else they die. Others enjoy fantasy novels or have a penchant for char siu pork. The main character, an unnamed cryptozoologist, spends her days smoking cigarettes, drinking at a dive bar, and documenting the stories of her beast-inhabited city. Many involve romances between humans and beasts that are taut with tragedy and friction. A painter, for instance, falls in love with the perfect bestial mate, but loses him after a mysterious incident involving his pregnant sister. The overall effect of Yan's storytelling is dreamy and hypnotic, sometimes opaque but always captivating. These cryptic but well-told tales offer much to chew on.
Thought Provoking & Powerful
I found myself re-reading nearly every chapter to make it last longer.