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A Bestiary

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  482 ratings  ·  62 reviews
* Winner of the 2015 Essay Collection Competition, Selected by Wayne Koestenbaum *

“Rarely have I come across tenderness, venom, and fire held so intimately, so exquisitely, as in Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary. This book would be impressive enough as a collection of finely-forged fragments, but as it weaves itself into an even more impressive whole, my hat came off. Lily Hoang wr
Paperback, 156 pages
Published April 15th 2016 by Cleveland State University Poetry Center
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People expect Asian women to submit, to be passive and lifeless and pretty. Lily Hoang skewers that stereotype in her bold essay collection A Bestiary. With fierce prose, she writes about her dead sister and her drug addiction, her parents' ailing bodies and how she never fulfilled their image of a perfect Vietnamese daughter, and her abusive relationships with men. Elements of fairy tale and myth unify the themes of race, friendship, and relational grief and joy that pervade these essays. Hoang ...more
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well, this is a magnificent book. Personal essays about grief and love and broken people and difficult relationships that are raw and vulnerable but full of steel and intelligence. There is an ongoing meditation on fairy tale and myth, throughout that is also very powerful. This is one of the better essay collections I've ever read.
Jen Campbell
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Perfect for fans of Maggie Nelson. :)
Lily Hoang tackles death, lust, disappointment, pain, parents, fairy tales, and so much more in this virtuoso performance. Her prose moves freely and without fear through these various section and topics. It's all thrillingly electric and alarmingly naked.
Pat Pujolas
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-faves
And then a book like this comes along, shattering your expectations, and restoring your faith in contemporary writing. In a single word, perfect.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Unspeakably tender, honest, raw. If you've ever loved a person with an addiction, you know this story -- if you've ever been abused, you know this story -- and yet Hoang tells it in a way that will creep into your heart's cracks and break the whole thing open all over again.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"This essay already feels too honest, but I'll publish it anyway. I am not worth a nickel of shame." Extraordinarily brilliant both in the literary sense and in the personal sense of what "personal essay" can become. This book may as well be called poetry, because it has that kind of staying power, every sentence a risk worth taking.
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cnf, fabulist
Gobbled this up on the plane ride home from AWP. Lily! So good.
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
can i give this book ten stars instead? can i give it ALL THE STARS?
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
These essays fragment, loop, transform and eat their own tails (but in a good way, if that is possible). I loved their connections. Fairy Tales, grief, loss, love, addiction.
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
this collection has a piece of my heart
Jan Stinchcomb
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A completely satisfying hybrid work, combining memoir, fairy tale and myth, all of it stitched together with honesty and courage.
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
one of the most extraordinary things I have ever read... a confessional of magic and terrible beauty, lesson on love, friendship, fairytales, self, and the damage we do to ourselves.
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
This collection was spot-on in the way it approached the form of a lyric essay - fragmented, scattered, wide-reaching - while at the same time, almost in the background, those fragments began to cohere around points of focus and edge toward narrative. I was drawn in immediately as the text opened up. But as I got about halfway through, something in the tone veered toward academic, almost cliquey (poetry buzzwords, shout-outs to writer friends, etc.). I can understand why a lot of people love thi ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The success of the true rat race is all veneer. It is a hot-boxed garbage and infidelity." (16) from On The Rat Race

The poetic essays in A Bestiary are linked as dangerous creatures, centering Hoang's experiences. Hoang's incredible use of short sentences emphasize a point, then sweeping lyric sentences completely draw the reader in. There is no topic off-limits as she connects expectations, family, racism, naïveté, professionalism and more.

"Time standardized for trains and later for the bombs
Raksha Vasudevan
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A masterclass in the fragmented essay/memoir form. Hoang bravely and skillfully explores family, romantic relationships, friendship, academia and much more in this text. The narrator reckons unflinchingly with ugly truths: envy, staying with lovers who mistreat her, mistreating lovers, laziness, caring for and despising her body, her family, her work. Each of the essays can be enjoyed alone but together, they paint a complex life, full of self-contradiction, rumination and hopes, some realized a ...more
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautiful reflection on life. Lily Hoang hasn't written so much of a memoir as a meditation of various bits of knowledge and how that knowledge reflects her life. I expected this to be a slow read, and I was prepared to spend a few weeks on this book, but once I started I did not want to stop until it was over. This is a slim book that packs a lot of emotional punch, so I won't call it a quick read, but it is utterly absorbing.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Compartmentalization, fracture, self (making, metaphor, gaze, and ability to see), so much desiring (for understanding, transformation, lucidity), and a journey in gasps. A lot to mine here. Many porous boxes to pour and mix in. Satisfaction? No. But what satisfaction? Like holding up a tinted glasses in the sun and seeing what colors they make, and learning about the self through colors. We can make a lot here. Tiger looks at pig.
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was beautiful: I loved what she had to say, but also the style in which she presented it. I'd never seen anybody use fragmentation quite like she felt like I was a big soup pot, watching as ingredients slid in and began to swirl together. Not every section was a my-life-is-changing WOW, but there were enough real gems in here, and enough holistic beauty, that I flagged it to read again soon.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This poetry collection is absolutely INCREDIBLE. Truly, one of the best I’ve ever read. I just found her words to be so utterly captivating and raw; slick and intense. Everything kind of packs a punch or startles your senses. The honesty and fervor in her writing was almost intoxicating. I kept circling and underlining everything because it took my breath away. I can’t wait to randomly pick this up again in the future and experience it all over again.
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lily Hoang's A Bestiary is a masterful blend of essay, fragment, and poem, concerning addiction- to both substances and to love/relationships, and how both can be utterly destructive. Crossed through this are Hoang's considerations of her Vietnamese-American identity. There are some moments in A Bestiary that are among the most brutally honest I've ever read.
Hannah Warren
In A Bestiary, Hoang meditates on the fairy tale and all the ways in which we confuse the mimetic with the non-mimetic, the real with the irreal. This collection of essays lies at the intersection of identity politics, grief, childhood and adult trauma, and tenderness in relationships.

"Stability, I learned, is necessitated by fear."
Oct 15, 2018 marked it as dropped
We only had to read sections of this for class, but sometimes I'd go on ahead and read more. Still, I never completely finished it, and don't really have the drive to do so.

It wasn't bad, but there wasn't enough good to keep me.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved every page of this collection of essays. Beautiful, personal, painful yet hopeful all at the same time. Hoang takes well-known master narratives from fairy tales and myth and claim them for her own.
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I need to be better about reading things that are poetry or nontraditional prose. I read it really fast, but I should go back and savor more. I really liked this book, and I look forward to rereading passages later.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: class
tw rape mention, emotional & physical abuse ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Absolutely one of the most gorgeous books I have ever read in my life! I'm going to recommend reading this to everyone I know now!
Jerome Spencer
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing writing. Contemporary (in the sense that it's going to change writing), vulnerable, honest, fierce and brilliant.
Patrick Callier
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary
Loved the snippety aphoristic style. Intense read--sort of broke me for a bit.
Rachel Atakpa
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
mesmerizing, a siren song that heals. this is a book of embodiment, drawing [in] breath rhythmically. I want to read this perpetually.
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Lily Hoang's first book, PARABOLA, won the Chiasmus Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest. She is also the author of the forthcoming novels CHANGING (Fairy Tale Review Press, Dec. 2008) and THE EVOLUTIONARY REVOLUTION (Les Figues Press, 2009-10). She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English & Women's Studies at Saint Mary's College in Indiana." ...more

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