Book Club: February 2024 by Hana Zittel

Book Club
By Hana Zittel
Published Issue 122, February 2024

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri (2022)

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s 2022 debut short story collection captures the fantastical inner lives of wild creatures across the globe. Crafted in the form of fables, these stories grant all animals inner thoughts and lives, enabling them to interact across species with full language. In the title story, a group of tigers living among mangroves face the reality of dwindling food when a mythical manticore stumbles upon their territory. Despite their desperation, the tigers have never stooped low enough to prey on the people of the local village, until the manticore starts stalking and devouring locals, while attempting to lure the tigers into joining.

In Someone Must Watch Over The Dead, a young vulture strives to fulfill its ancestral duty of devouring the dead in order to honor them. “It is said and also it is known by almost everyone that there are some among us that can taste the life that was lived the closer they get to the bone.” The young vulture soon becomes overwhelmed with an intensifying task as a disease strikes a herd of antelope, leaving more death than it can consume.

Strung together with the currents of the natural world and the intricate complexity of wild creatures, What We Fed to the Manticore is a sparse and emotionally raw collection. Kolluri illuminates the interior lives of animals with vibrant prose and sparse storytelling, providing imagery and reason to their instincts and behaviors. Despite suffering from the ill-effects of humanity, from climate change to outright brutality, these creatures remain tethered to the balance of the natural world. Each creature is intrinsically aware of what most humans severely lack, the deep understanding of the intertwined beauty of our world and the connection between all living beings. 

What We Fed to the Manticore is Kolluri’s only present publication and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Award for Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, among other nominations.

The Border Simulator by Gabriel Dozal (2023) Spanish Translation by Natasha Tiniacos

The Border Simulator (like the real border) was made up
of narratives that pass inspection, ports of entry÷ poems
that have artificial rivers have brother and sister
stream down holographic mountains in an attempt to reach
the lower valley’s work floor. 

Gabriel Dozal, through his expansive debut poetry collection, vividly portrays the bureaucratic cruelty inherent in the U.S. Mexico border. Following the brother-sister duo, Primitivo and Primitiva, Dozal captures their crossing journey, interactions with U.S. customs, and Primitiva’s subsequent exploited labor at “the fábrica.” Dozal’s depiction of the border is a cyclical hellscape, an endless simulation trapping crossers in its closing grasp and assimilating them into the system. “He thought he arrived, ipso facto / he’s named “crosser.” For if he truly is one / then surely that’s his job, to cross. You name an appliance / for what it does. It says here in his file that his alias / is “Primitivo the Asymptote” but we’ll still call him / a crosser because we’re creepy bullies.”

Each poem in The Border Simulator is accompanied by its mirror translation in Spanish provided by Natasha Tiniacos. Dozal’s winding and expansive prose allows this consuming collection to truly capture the dark, labyrinthian state of immigration at the U.S. Mexico border, highlighting the absurdity of humanity’s imagined and enforced borders. 

Hana Zittel is a librarian at the Denver Public Library in addition to being a librarian at the Denver Zine Librarian. She grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and pretty much just likes being outside with her pup when she has some free time, and reading, that might have been assumed though.

Check out Hana’s January Book Club install in case you missed it, or head to our Explore section to see more of her past reviews.

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