Book Review

Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar

Publisher: Rose Metal Press
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 84
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars


Monster Portraits is the autobiography of two siblings told through a collection of monsters. Each monster is given a visage through Del Samatar’s intricate illustrations and a voice through the collected snippets of story, lore, and ephemera transcribed by Sofia Samatar. But each portrait also contains a fragmented depiction of the authors. Their own mosaic portrait makes its lair in the margins.

Monster Portraits is as gorgeous as it is challenging. It won’t take you long to finish and once you do, you’ll immediately want to read it again.


I love books of monsters. The Monster Manuals of assorted tabletop roleplaying games, the seventh-century Liber Monstrorum, the apocalyptic visions of Daniel, and now Monster Portraits. As a kid I would pore through illustrated works of fantasy and religion looking for pictures of strange creatures. I made my own monster catalogues in 70-page college-ruled notebooks with pencil drawings to show where the claws and the guns and the wings went.

What compels me most about books of monsters is not first reading them, but rather returning to them later. Monsters draw their strength from how well they compel us to reimagine them again and again. They are representations of our fears, testing grounds for our desires, or metaphors for power beyond our reach. And so the ones we return to are those which are useful for storing bits of ourselves we cannot otherwise find shapes for. In this way, all books of monsters are autobiographical.

Sofia Samatar has been interested in monsters for a long time too. In many ways this book is a continuing conversation of her early short stories on monsters, particularly “Those” and “Ogres of East Africa.” Sympathy for and self-identification with monsters was also a major theme of her first novel, A Stranger in Olondria.

Del Samatar’s illustrations, however, force her writing into a new track. The monsters in this book feel quite distinct from those she usually writes about. Del’s illustrations are exactingly detailed—and so rather than clarifying, Sofia here seeks to obfuscate. Her fragments are interspersed with conjecture and tangent which add a layer of mystery to the precise images. Some of the entries read like prose poems, others like clippings from the history books of a parallel world, others like the start of short stories without endings.  

Book Review

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Publisher: Random House
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
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Growing up in a remote area of beautiful Idaho may seem like a dream come true. But for Tara Westover, the remote location mirrored her own isolation, both in beliefs and in terms of those she could relate to.

Born into a family of devout Mormon extremists and survivalists, Tara was not allowed to take medicine, have a valid form of personal identification, or even attend school. Moments that might have been spent learning how to read were instead needed to prepare for the inevitable doomsday that her family believed was quickly approaching.

My Thoughts

Tara’s journey—from a child unable to attend school to a young adult earning her PhD at the renowned Cambridge University—is filled with heartbreak, tears, and genuine happiness. The eloquent yet accessible nature of Tara’s writing style allows her readers to go through the journey of her young life with her. Even though her life experiences are likely vastly different from those of the majority of her readers, Tara has a way of telling her story that is innately human. Although most of her readers may not relate to Tara’s memories of things like being in a horrible car accident and then forbidden to go to the hospital for her injuries, themes like familial tensions and the struggle to find the meaning of one’s academic education will certainly resonate with many others. 

Educated is worth the read not only because Tara’s story is compelling, but also because it will positively leave readers with something long after they’ve closed the book—whether that be gratefulness for the opportunities education has afforded the audience or reflection on what life and education means to them. I encourage everyone to delve in as soon as possible, and I promise you won’t be able to put it down.