three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The BestiaryXeno Atlas’s 1950s Bronx childhood is as unusual as his name. After his mother dies in childbirth and his father abandons him to travel the world, Xeno is raised by his grandmother, who fills his head with fabulous stories of mythical animals—beasts that Xeno begins to glimpse everywhere in real life. At the prisonlike boarding school to which he is later sent, Xeno learns of bestiaries, ancient texts cataloging real and imagined animals. He becomes obsessed with one lost tome—the Caravan Bestiary, which lists the "unnatural and fantastical beasts refused entry to the ark by Noah"—and dedicates his life to traveling the globe and unraveling the mystery of its whereabouts.
Dial. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 0385337361

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Nicholas Christopher does many things well in his deftly written, thought-provoking novels, but his stand-out trait is his ability to make the fantastic believable. His work adds a uniquely American fillip to magical realism." Robin Vidimos

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The key to this strange novel’s allure may be its tantalizing blend of tones: melancholic one moment and a little ridiculous the next. … Christopher captures that adolescent thrill of falling into the mythological world and finding our deepest fears and desires embodied—alive, frightening and fantastic." Ron Charles

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Christopher is a compelling storyteller and writer. His novel is not a thriller, a mystery, a horror story, a mystical journey. It’s an old-fashioned quest." Diane White  

Columbus Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel’s greatest pleasures might lie in its esoterica, its fascinating trips down side paths of the fantastic." Bill Eichenberger

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Unlike Christopher’s previous novels, The Bestiary merely teeters on the edge of fantasy. Nothing that happens in the book is technically impossible. … Everything is simply a little larger than life, and all the more interesting for it." Ligaya Mishan

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Bestiary is a fascinating blend of the bibliophile quest novel merged with romance, intrigue and fantasy." Robert Allen Papinchak

Critical Summary

The Bestiary, Nicholas Christopher’s fifth novel—after Franklin Flyer (2002) and A Trip to the Stars (2000)—has more than a little in common with Dan Brown’s hugely popular The Da Vinci Code : the plots of both books are driven by a search for a lost object whose disappearance involves significant religious and historical intrigue. But The Bestiary is no mere Da Vinci knockoff. As the Washington Post opines, by blurring the edges of fantasy and reality, "Christopher is doing something strange here—and tantalizing." The novel’s exploration of magical realism is what sets it apart, and its depiction of Xeno’s enchanting, melancholy journey from Paris to Venice to Vietnam as he discovers beasts and himself is both riveting and heartwarming.