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From “a writer of remarkable gifts,” “Borges with emotional weight, comes a tale that is at once a fantastical historical mystery, a haunting love story, and a glimpse into the uncanny—the quest for a long-lost book detailing the animals left off Noah’s Ark.
Xeno Atlas grows up in the Bronx, his Sicilian grandmother’s strange stories of animal spirits his only escape from the legacy of his mother’s early death and his stern father’s long absences as a common seaman. Shunted off to an isolated boarding school, with his father’s activities abroad and the source of his newfound wealth grown increasingly mysterious, Xeno turns his early fascination with animals into a personal obsession: his search for the Caravan Bestiary. This medieval text, lost for eight hundred years, supposedly details the animals not granted passage on the Ark—griffins, hippogriffs, manticores, and basilisks—the vanished remnants of a lost world sometimes glimpsed in the shadowy recesses of our own.
Xeno’s quest takes him from the tenements of New York to the jungles of Vietnam to the ancient libraries of Europe—but it is only by riddling out his own family secrets that he can hope to find what he is looking for. A story of panoramic scope and intellectual suspense, The Bestiary is ultimately a tale of heartbreak and redemption.
From the Hardcover edition.
tears flooding my eyes. The ashes were in a tight gray packet the size of a brick. I couldn’t believe my dog’s bodily self had been reduced to that. Bruno also sent along Re’s leather collar and the medallion imprinted with his name, my name, and my old address. I placed them and the ashes alongside my grandmother’s music box in the trunk under my bed. Now Re’s spirit had joined hers and my mother’s. Throughout my stay at that school, I felt his presence, not as a shadowy mist, but a weight that
out of the underworld. Eventually they gravitated to the sea. They grew fish tails, but kept their wings. They sang across the flashing waters, luring seamen onto rocky shores. Finally they took to the water themselves, fish from the waist down. A comb in one hand, a mirror in the other, they danced atop the waves. Their earrings were half-moons, their bracelets human bone. When they came ashore to dance with men, they concealed their tails and dyed their hair black, leaving a single clue to
bad luck. My father’s seemed to lie in marriage. He had married once for love and once for money, and lost both wives prematurely. The double life I had imagined for him had turned out to be anything but elaborate. And he had remained a loner to the end. “Outside of money—the tuitions, the allowance—did my father ever speak to you about me?” “How do you mean?” “Did he ever talk about what I was like, where I lived in New York, who I lived with?” “I knew you lived with your grandmother and a
a pool of moonlight. And, most importantly, the animals, each more fantastic than the next, visible everywhere: chimeras and hippogriffs, man-sized ants, one-wingèd birds and two-headed owls. Caves of bats with glittering eyes. Dragonflies trailing fire. Tigers romping with manticores, armadillos with basilisks. Of course, the forest before me was nothing like that. At first it looked like any other forest, but with truly ancient trees: towering oaks with broad trunks and interlacing branches.
many details that caught my eye: that there were nine mermaids with bright shining manes, eight of them dark-haired, one a blonde. Another was Sarkas’s illustration of the animals whose threefold incarnations—on land, sea, and in the air—are celebrated in the Caravan Bestiary. He had chosen the horse, painting (in close proximity) a grazing stallion, a seahorse riding the surf, and a wingèd horse like Pegasus rearing in the sky. Nearby was the phoenix, the only animal that freely inhabits the