What We Fed to the Manticore

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Pub Date 06 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2022

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Through nine emotionally vivid stories, all narrated from animal perspectives, Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection explores themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss, and family with resounding heart and deep tenderness.

In Kolluri’s pages, a faithful hound mourns the loss of the endangered rhino he swore to protect. Vultures seek meaning as they attend to the antelope that perished in Central Asia. A beloved donkey’s loyalty to a zookeeper in Gaza is put to the ultimate test. And a wounded pigeon in Delhi finds an unlikely friend.

In striking, immersive detail against the backdrop of an ever-changing international landscape, What We Fed to the Manticore speaks to the fears and joys of the creatures we share our world with, and ultimately places the reader under the rich canopy of the tree of life.

About the Author: Talia Lakshmi Kolluri's short fiction has appeared in The Minnesota Review, Ecotone, Southern Humanities Review, and The Common.

Through nine emotionally vivid stories, all narrated from animal perspectives, Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection explores themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss...

Advance Praise

"What We Fed to the Manticore is a work of incredible imagination and daring, asking us to recognize the inner lives of whales, donkeys and pigeons to be as complex and deep as our own. The stories in this collection are gorgeously written and richly emotionally textured; in Talia Kolluri’s hands, the familiar world we live in comes freshly to life. I looked up from the last page to find that my own world—and my heart—had become bigger." - Claire Comstock-Gay, author of Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars

"If like me, you fell in love with Fiver and Hazel and Charlotte and Wilbur as a child and have been looking ever since for stories that work that same magic—here they are. This spellbinding collection reminds us that every animal story is a human one, and every human story an animal one. These stories work like incantations." - Ayse Papatya Bucak, author of The Trojan War Museum: and Other Stories

"Kolluri delivers a dazzling, daring bestiary brimming over with textured, tender lives. A most magnificent debut!" - Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of World of Wonders

"The voicing of other species is an ancient, vulnerable, and utterly human practice. For millennia, we’ve placed our stories inside non-human animals not only to celebrate these creatures, but to see the ways our own natures bend and twist in a new set of stripes. The fiction in this deft collection proves that what we call ‘humanity’ exists within a menagerie of other beings, but it also showcases the mind of the one human animal regaling us with her singular wit and wonder. How lovely to get to know a storyteller like Talia Lakshmi Kolluri while she winks at us from inside the minds of a tiger, a vulture, a donkey, a whale." - Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

"What We Fed to the Manticore is a work of incredible imagination and daring, asking us to recognize the inner lives of whales, donkeys and pigeons to be as complex and deep as our own. The stories...

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ISBN 9781953534415
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Featured Reviews

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri has given us a beautiful debut collection of short stories, vividly told from the perspective of different animals. There are common themes throughout each piece that touches on the fallibility of living things and the dichotomy of life creating both loneliness and belonging. The author has an exceptional ability to connect the reader to her characters deeply, without wasting a single word. She definitely has a new fan of her work and I look forward to reading her next publication.

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I am always on the lookout for stories that teach something about the world and our place in it, stories that shift our perspective while also entertaining. The nine innovative, imaginative short stories in What We Fed the Manticore, each narrated by a different animal, accomplish this in spades.

The stories explore the inner and outer lives of animals and feature different levels of communication and interaction between animals and humans and with different purposes. Some were compassionate and kind, some indifferent, and others self serving. As a whole, the stories serve as cautionary tales that explore the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment. The world would be a better place if we acknowledge our connected reality and act in the best interests of all. Talia Lakshmi Kolluri understands this.

As with all story collections, the impact of individual selections will vary depending on the reader. I particularly enjoyed The Good Donkey, The Dog Star is the Brightest Star in the Sky. May God Forever Bless the Rhino Keepers, Let Your Body Meet the Ground, and also the Author's Notes at the end. I hope you will find your own favorites.

I received a drc from the publisher via Netgalley. Tentative publication 9/6/22.

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All of the short stories in this book are written from an animal's point of view. The stories roam from the Arctic to Delhi, from the deep ocean to the Gaza Strip. All of the stories are ultimately about how animals are affected by humans and the tragedies and tenderness that can come from these interactions.

Although the language is not complicated, these are not children's stories. The animals in these stories suffer from things that they do not understand and feel pain and loss. They go deep. After reading many of them I felt melancholy.

This is the nature of the world, though. Human actions affect how whales can navigate in the deep ocean. They affect how polar bears hunt. Wolves are often misunderstood and feared by people, as are tigers.

The author has thought about how animals perceive the world and has worked to get that across in her stories. We don't know exactly how whales communicate, but she puts forward a way that allows us to imagine it. She explains how pigeons might see their navigation maps as strings of color in a way that I found beautiful.

And there is also love in these stories. A dog and its keeper work together to protect rhinos. A man sees that a pigeon has fallen into despair and acts to help the bird. These are stories that allowed me to consider how differently creatures can experience the world and showed great empathy for all the animals that share our planet with us. Although I said the book felt melancholy, it also helped my sense of connection to nature and I do highly recommend it! It's a short book but one to savor.

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What We Fed to the Manticore is a heartbreaking, transcendent collection by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri, featuring nine beautiful tales told from the perspective of animals.

I knew this would be a very special collection right from the opening story, The Good Donkey, where a zookeeper in Gaza paints his donkey to look like a zebra to entertain his diminishing clientele. But don’t be fooled by this initially comical concept; this story will rip your heart out and stomp on it.

I don’t want to spoil all the animals in this collection, because I derived so much joy in trying to figure out each of the narrators. But you will encounter a variety of herbivores, mammals, birds, unlikely alliances, and destruction.

The relationships between the animals and humans, or other animals, are the beating heart of all these stories. As Kolluri mentions in her author notes, establishing an authentic level of communication is key to these stories. Sometimes this is verbal, sometimes not, but Kolluri constantly creates a real, hypnotic world.

And if that wasn’t enough, Kolluri shares all her research, so you can take a deeper dive into the beautiful world she has captured. And her aforementioned author notes just make these stories so much richer. Kolluri is truly a special writer.

Highly recommended for absolutely everyone. I would not hesitate to read these stories to my five-year-old daughter, and I know she’d be as enraptured as I am.

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