Monster Portraits

Monster Portraits

Relentlessly original and brilliantly hybrid, Monster Portraits investigates the concept of the monstrous through a mesmerizing combination of words and images. An uncanny autobiography of otherness, it offers the record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of mixed-race children growing up Somali-American in the 1980s. Operat...

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Title:Monster Portraits
Author:Sofia Samatar
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Monster Portraits Reviews

  • enricocioni

    Sofia Samatar’s idea was to “tell our lives through monsters, as the ancient Egyptians told the year through the myth of Osiris”, to which her brother Del replied, “Sounds dope”. Sofia therefore does some research (“Most monsters, I read, have a horror of the camera, but will allow their portraits to be drawn by hand”), packs her bags full of pens (not knowing “what writing utensils were used in the monstrous regions”), drives to the station, and boards the train (careful to enter the car “marke

    Sofia Samatar’s idea was to “tell our lives through monsters, as the ancient Egyptians told the year through the myth of Osiris”, to which her brother Del replied, “Sounds dope”. Sofia therefore does some research (“Most monsters, I read, have a horror of the camera, but will allow their portraits to be drawn by hand”), packs her bags full of pens (not knowing “what writing utensils were used in the monstrous regions”), drives to the station, and boards the train (careful to enter the car “marked with a diagram representing a human or a starfish”) that will take her deep into the monstrous regions—places like Carvay, Fanderlee, Snimron, Muramanae.

    Sometimes she interviews monsters over drinks (“her fingers clicked crustacean-like against her cup”), sometimes she bravely crashes their weddings (“you will be presented with balls of scented wax. Press these into your ears to protect them from the hymns”), sometimes she observes them from a safe distance (“From my balcony, I watch them devouring their breakfasts of locusts and honey and shitting in the canal”). But almost from the very start of her journey Sofia begins to question the line that separates her (and her brother) from her subjects. If to be a monster means to be an assemblage of incongruous parts, does that mean that the Samatars—mixed-race Somali-Americans—are also monsters? What about being a woman, is that monstrous? What about being someone who thinks and writes for a living? Does Samatar’s profession make her like the blue-skinned scribes that sit atop the tallest pillars in the monster cities she visits, able to see everything but never acting on what they see, only ever writing about it? Her field notes become short, erudite essays, shot through with quotes and references to a broad range of authors, living and deceased, as well as memories of her and her brother’s childhood in the nineteen-eighties.

    For my full review, including thoughts my childhood obsession with monsters and monster catalogues, head over to my blog, Strange Bookfellows:

  • Minggu Legi

    WOW!

  • M.

    Sofia Samatar continues to be a genius -- this is in part, reworking / updating of Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, in part a highly idiosyncratic, somewhat collaborative memoir, in part a collection of obliquely linked stories; definitely a conceptual project. Unnervingly gorgeous writing. Vibrant illustrations.

  • Anne

    This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read before and I thoroughly enjoyed every magical minute of it. It is poetry, part personal essay, part research, part myth making, and part myth unraveling—complemented by the most imaginative and detailed illustrations. It’s truly a treasure of a book that explores vital questions and social issues. Honestly, it’s so rich that it’s impossible to describe. Just read it!

  • Seana

    Unique. My full review is

    .

  • Miriam

    I'm going to reread this immediately. It will probably get 5 stars the second time.

    I'll try to post updates and mark quotes this time.

    While you wait (haha) go read her story in Long Hidden.

  • Sean

    A deft meditation on otherness, racial violence, gender and sexual oppression. Part poetry, part autobiography, part academic discourse, Samatar explores the definition between monsters (the other) and monstrous (those acts often perpetuated against the other) and where the lines blur between the two and what it means to except the labels. It’s both an indictment of contemporary culture and a beautiful book about survival.

  • Gina

    "She said she had claws on the inside too. Her heart bore a pair of claws that were useful for nothing, she told me, but scratching itself."

    "Monsters are abjection. Monsters are the future. Monsters are sex."

    "I don't know. What does it even mean to embrace your nature? Surely it can't mean explaining it all the time."

    "Beseech, worry, and fascinate desire."

    "Who hasn't ever wondered : am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person."

    "Exiles and insomniacs share this feeling : that each is t

    "She said she had claws on the inside too. Her heart bore a pair of claws that were useful for nothing, she told me, but scratching itself."

    "Monsters are abjection. Monsters are the future. Monsters are sex."

    "I don't know. What does it even mean to embrace your nature? Surely it can't mean explaining it all the time."

    "Beseech, worry, and fascinate desire."

    "Who hasn't ever wondered : am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person."

    "Exiles and insomniacs share this feeling : that each is the only one."

    This was a wonderful little book. It was filled with beautiful illustrations and equally beautiful writing.

  • Bogi Takács

    This was great, but so short! I would have liked to keep on reading! Also, I spy some oblique Renee Gladman references, waaaaaahhhhhhhhh *outpouring of emotions*

    I have a bunch of short books to review, so I will probably put some of them together - I just wanted to quickly update my Goodreads so that I don't forget what's in my own queue. :)

    Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library

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