If Melville House Publishing hadn’t sent me a notification about Strange Beasts of China through Netgalley, I would never have heard of Yan Ge or her works (thirteen books including six novels) which is a pity since her straight forwardly magical storytelling soothed me while opening my mind to a different way of analyzing the world. The story structure wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from the cover copy but, blending a fantastical world with life in modern China felt unique and new. I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Strange Beasts of China presents itself as a first-person set of articles or pulp stories written by an unnamed female narrator who makes her living collecting stories of the beasts in her hometown of Yong’an. Her editor craves romantic, dramatic, and over-the-top expose-type pieces, but the narrator holds genuine interest in the beasts, stemming from a failed attempt at getting a cryptozoology degree. Each section opens with generally held knowledge about the featured beast; the final paragraphs tend to reveal the truth about their traditions and personalities along with revelations about how prevalent they are in Yong’an.
While each section/story in the book builds on the previous one, the overall novel works better as a character/societal study than a plot-driven piece. The unnamed protagonist’s added knowledge after each addition (or what she chooses to reveal to the reader) shaped my responses to the various cast members, and the myriad romances threaded through helped me see the beasts as whole beings, not just oddities.
As a white American reader, I haven’t read many novels like Strange Beasts of China, and I believe that Yan Ge’s experiences growing up Sichuan, China, created a voice and perspective that blooms in her works. I don’t know if every reader will react so positively to her style, but I am infinitely charmed and will seek out her other English-translated works. (My two years of college Chinese were not enough to read anything!) In a world where people are feeling more divided than ever, stretching ourselves to experience other perspectives is incredibly important, and Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China gave me that opportunity.
5 Visits to the Dolphin Bar out of 5
Creative Team: Yan Ge (Author), Jeremy Tiang (Translator)
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
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