What on earth is a manticore? It’s something that can’t be found in any dictionary but the reader does know that this being in one of the nine short stories in “What We Fed to the Manticore” is not benign. All of these stories are told from the perspective of a different animal — donkey, whale, pigeon, tiger, wolf among them. They are fully formed, integrated into their respective environments and for the most part much more appealing than the few humans that emerge. This is no book of children’s tales, though. There is danger, despair and a great deal of sadness.
Talia Lakshmi Kolluri says her first and most important inspiration for writing the stories was to learn as much as she could about the environments and behaviors of her narrators, then to place herself inside their lives. She does so beautifully. She is a luminous writer with great empathy for her narrators. Underlying all of these tales is what is happening to the earth; though climate change is never expressly addressed, it plays a role. Humans, needless to say, do not come off well, aside from a couple of tender caretakers.
Kolluri says in her epilogue that she felt her understanding of the world was incomplete because “the inner lives of animals are such a mystery to me.” Through these loving, disturbing, and insightful stories she helps unravel that mystery for us all.
Oh, and the manticore? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out what it is.
Thanks to Tin House and NetGalley for the eARC.