Relentlessly original and brilliantly hybrid, Monster Portraits investigates the concept of the monstrous through a mesmerizing combination of words and images. An uncanny and imaginative autobiography of otherness, it offers the fictional record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of Somali-American children growing up in the 1980s. Operating under the sign of two—texts and drawings, brother and sister, black and white, extraordinary and everyday—Monster Portraits multiplies, disintegrates, and blends, inviting the reader to find the danger in the banal, the beautiful in the grotesque. Accumulating into a breathless journey and groundbreaking study, these brief fictions and sketches claim the monster as a fragmentary vastness: not the sum but the derangement of its parts.
Del Samatar’s drawings conjure beings who drag worlds in their wake. World Fantasy Award-winning author Sofia Samatar responds with allusive, critical, and ecstatic meditations. Together they have created a secret history of the mixed-race child, a guide to the beasts of an unknown mythos, and a dreamer’s iconography. The monstrous never looked so simultaneously haunting and familiar.
«Fall into the wormhole of an imagination lit like fireworks. Sofia Samatar’s storytelling never fails to enchant and Monster Portraits lava-rocks Del Samatar’s stunningly detailed images with the breathless depth of her vision to peek between bushes, beyond diasporas, into mirrors, and across time through the everyday monstrous grandeur—coy and aggressive, best-kept secret and plain as the second nose on a rugged face—often missed by the naked eye. Be ready to be beautifully ruined.»
Samiya Bashir, author of Field Theories
«Monster Portraits is a visually and linguistically striking book—a moving and daring duet between an artist and a writer, between a sister and a brother. Del Samatar’s illustrations of monsters are gorgeous and hauntingly human. Their faces are emotive and their bodies are fantastical and graceful. Sofia Samatar—a dazzling and vital voice—braids autobiography with philosophy and storytelling (folkloric and literary) to create vignettes that reveal how Otherness is always present in our art, our histories, our mirrors. Her language is riveting, visionary, and breathtakingly alive. Monster Portraits is an immensely rewarding feast for the mind and for the eye.»
Eduardo C. Corral, author of Slow Lightning
«Archetypes are reborn anew in this book; though their power to impact our lives is contemporary and immediate their sources are as ancient and original as ever. This marriage of fairy tale and postmodern autobiographical text creates a fearful symmetry.»
Kazim Ali, author of Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies
«This is a wondrous book. It reminded me of all the magical and rupturing books I have carried close to my heart, tucked against my body beneath my coat, since childhood. This is not a child’s book, though it could be. The ‘monstrous’ life of ungulates and human-animal compositions, but also ordinary people—the New York City ‘nanny’ perhaps, who snaps one day and does away with the domestic scene before her—proliferate, exit, and enter the world of this book at intervals both soundless and without a visible depth. ‘All monsters,’ writes Sofia Samatar, ‘express relationships: not the ones we dream of, but the ones we have.’ Del Samatar’s drawings, which accompany the brilliant (plainly written yet alchemical) prose of Monster Portraits, are also astonishingly beautiful. I am so excited to hold this book in my hands, like a ‘red bowl.’ And drink from it or eat from it. Again and again. To this end, I am thinking of buying a new coat that fits tightly and has buttons, so that I can indeed hold it very close, in all weathers and at all times!»
Bhanu Kapil, author of Incubation: A Space for Monsters
«The Samatars’ monsters are beautiful, their panegyrics also beautiful, and beauty is the word for every strange and perfect thing that recompenses the brutalities of the world. Every excrescence is glorious here: devotion and invention cling to each other, philosophy crystallizes from asymmetries, and monsters take the form of lives turned inside out. Otherness, in this imaginary, is the foundation of togetherness, and monsters exist by their defiance of all monstrosities.»
Anne Boyer, author of Garments Against Women
Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013) and The Winged Histories (Small Beer Press, 2016), and the short story collection Tender (Small Beer Press, 2017). Her work has received the William L. Crawford Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She teaches at James Madison University in Virginia. Visit her website here.
Del Samatar holds a BA in Fine Arts from Rutgers University. He lives in New Jersey, where he is pursuing a career as a tattoo artist.