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:

  • 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.

  • Miriam

    Actual review, finally:

    And author photo:

    [Edit: I totally failed to post updates the second time, too. Third time's the charm!]

    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.

  • 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!

  • Holly Walrath

    Samatar has teamed up with her brother for this hybrid speculative memoir of small, almost prose-poetry entries in a field guide of a woman's experience. These are not pieces that you can read quickly or easily. They need time to rest and be fed. I have kept this book by my bedside and read one piece at a time over a series of weeks. What I love about these is how personal and yet public they are, how Samatar negotiates the liminal of our understanding of self and the journey therein. This book

    Samatar has teamed up with her brother for this hybrid speculative memoir of small, almost prose-poetry entries in a field guide of a woman's experience. These are not pieces that you can read quickly or easily. They need time to rest and be fed. I have kept this book by my bedside and read one piece at a time over a series of weeks. What I love about these is how personal and yet public they are, how Samatar negotiates the liminal of our understanding of self and the journey therein. This book is a short, but powerful.

  • Miriam

    Everything I've read by Samatar has been excellent, but this is amazing. I've read it three times in three months and liked it more each time, and gotten new things out of it.

    Now I guess I'll go read all her other writing, and also all the writing mentioned here. Including the people (Anne Boyer, Bhanu Kapil, Eduardo Corral) who gave Advance Praise, because obviously they have great taste. Apologies if I have omitted anything.

    Everything I've read by Samatar has been excellent, but this is amazing. I've read it three times in three months and liked it more each time, and gotten new things out of it.

    Now I guess I'll go read all her other writing, and also all the writing mentioned here. Including the people (Anne Boyer, Bhanu Kapil, Eduardo Corral) who gave Advance Praise, because obviously they have great taste. Apologies if I have omitted anything.

    Thomas Talbot Waterman, Selected Readings in Anthropology UCB 1919

    Deborah Higgs Strickland, "The Future is Necessarily Monstrous"

    's translation of the Odyssey

    "a zone of incandescence"

    (Can be read here:

    )

  • Anna (lion_reads)

    Ugh, this was so beautiful! Del Samatar's black and white illustrations are otherworldly. Sofia Samatar's writing is poetry. Together they explore Otherness through the fantastic and the surreal.

    I love it all but here are some of my favourite bits:

    Ugh, this was so beautiful! Del Samatar's black and white illustrations are otherworldly. Sofia Samatar's writing is poetry. Together they explore Otherness through the fantastic and the surreal.

    I love it all but here are some of my favourite bits:

  • Idyll

    To be honest, this book went over my head so high and so fast that it might have hit King Kong in the mug and knocked him out. But, I couldn't stop reading it. It is a monster that locks your eyes on the page, and hypnotises you with its strange words, and makes you feel intense feelings. Sometimes, the world and the Otherness is familiar. You find that sentence that lures you in and pulls you through a strange paragraph full of abstraction, until you meet another stunning sentence, and you keep

    To be honest, this book went over my head so high and so fast that it might have hit King Kong in the mug and knocked him out. But, I couldn't stop reading it. It is a monster that locks your eyes on the page, and hypnotises you with its strange words, and makes you feel intense feelings. Sometimes, the world and the Otherness is familiar. You find that sentence that lures you in and pulls you through a strange paragraph full of abstraction, until you meet another stunning sentence, and you keep turning the pages.

    I read a review of this book on

    that I fully understood and loved. But, I didn't get any of what it said from the book. I may have caught glimpses of it if I really tried, but some books really make me wonder if they are purposely speaking one thing to me and a different thing to someone else. They are monster books with many loudly disagreeing heads.

    Some day, I might attempt some of the books that the author references in her text, because those lines are truly brilliant. It's a great ode to authors who write about monsters.

  • 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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