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Reviews for What We Fed To The Manticore

by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

Publishers Weekly
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The unifying premise of Kolluri’s exquisite debut collection—stories narrated from various animal perspectives—might seem gimmicky or cute, but it’s neither. Instead, these nine exceptional stories, centered on a variety of mammal and bird species and set in global locations ranging from the Sundarbans to the open ocean, from the arctic to Delhi, feel both timeless and urgent. Each deal in some way with the disruptions wrought by humans on the natural world and on nonhuman species. These include war (“The Good Donkey,” set in a Gaza zoo), hunting and poaching (in a pair of nearly unbearably sad stories, one set in Yellowstone, the other in Kenya), and technological disruptions. Perhaps inevitably, climate change is either explicitly or implicitly at the heart of several of these tales, including the title story, in which man-eating tigers realize there’s something menacing their home that’s even more dangerous than their own kind. A list of sources points to the real-world incidents and phenomena that inspired Kolluri, such as an Atlantic article titled “Why Did Two-Thirds of These Weird Antelope Suddenly Drop Dead?”; the context serves to make the author’s treatment that much more remarkable. Joy might understandably be in short supply in settings defined by mass extinctions and climate crisis, but the exceptional closer, “Let Your Body Meet the Ground,” soars on the promise of human kindness, no matter how small. This remarkable collection leaves an indelible mark. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown, Ltd. (Sept.)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

While novels told from an animal’s point of view are that unusual, an entire story collection with non-human narrators seems rare. Even more striking is the stupendous quality of Kolluri’s breathtaking debut. Deep bonds define Kolluri’s heart-pulling protagonists, who too often face relentless man-made destruction. In “The Good Donkey,” two emaciated lions befriend a donkey reluctantly posing as a zebra in a makeshift, shell-shocked Palestinian zoo. A white bear and a fox have only each other in “The Dog Star Is the Brightest Star in the Sky” as their frozen habitat disappears. A mother wolf with four pups who’s desperately searching for her brother won’t survive her first encounter with a truck and gun in “A Level of Tolerance.” Oversize vessels endanger migrating whales in “The Open Ocean Is an Endless Desert.” A pigeon is seriously injured by glass-encrusted kite string in “Let Your Body Meet the Ground.” In the collection’s most (tear-inducingly) remarkable “May God Forever Bless the Rhino Keepers,” a hound sacrifices his own safety to save his youthful charge. In her must-read author’s note pondering the wild and tame (how much perspective matters!), Kolluri explains, “I dissolved the distance in my mind between myself and the wild world, which helped me understand that the story of my life includes the story of all the life that surrounds us.” She deftly gifts that transforming empathy to readers.

Library Journal
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Kolluri's masterful debut collection features nine short stories where the protagonist is always an animal. Whether they are tame, wild, cared for, or alone, Kolluri imbues them with fully developed personalities and treats them with great respect. The relationships of animal/human, animal/animal, and animal/self reveal universal truths of love and fear. The stories are delivered by two narrators, providing a necessary change of pace halfway through. Audie Award—winning Nikki Massoud begins the collection in "The Good Donkey," giving voice to a sweet donkey and making unique oral choices for the antagonists. Narrator Neil Shah comes in later as a deep-voiced, pensive bear. Listeners may be disappointed to hear only a couple of stories from Shah, which is a shame, as he is very talented. Both narrators provide a wonderful atmospheric reading, giving the illusion of being tucked into bed by a macabre fairy tale. Most tracks are about 30 minutes with enough space between each story. VERDICT A remarkable book and an audiobook that deserves wide attention. Share this outstanding collection with fans of Karen Russell, George Saunders, and Amy Hempel.—Laura Stein