Book Review: Kristine Ong Muslim’s Meditations of a Beast
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry: Age of Blight, Butterfly Dream, Meditations of a Beast, Black Arcadia, Lifeboat, Grim Series, We Bury the Landscape, and A Roomful of Machines. Her short story collection, Age of Blight, was one of the best books of 2016 according to the Chicago Review of Books, while her poetry collection, Grim Series, was included in the preliminary ballot of the Horror Writers Association’s 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Poetry and was twice nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Award. She serves as the poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published in Singapore, and she has been widely published in magazines and anthologies across the globe. She grew up and continues to live in the rural southern Philippines.
A Review of Kristine Ong Muslim’s Meditations of a Beast by R. E. Steele
Kristine Ong Muslim’s book, Meditations of a Beast, is a ghostly revelation of what it means to experience disparity in human emotions. She exhibits this with her use of duality in imagery and meaning. Muslim transforms reader’s expectations by blurring the lines between a clinical and fictitious perspective. Writer Ted Mathys and painter Max Ernst are reflected in Muslim’s collection, concretizing this idea that more is happening beyond the surface.
Muslim creates a gorgeous dichotomy between the known and the unknown. She takes facts and knowledge, and pits them against more ambiguous concepts. Poetry on its own already creates a dual purpose – to read it because it exists and to break it down to understand its meaning. In “The Maze”, she develops duality by referencing the underground tunnels in Gortyn Crete and relates it to the Buddhist principle of impermanence, which marks the stages of existence. The poem describes how life is in a constant fluctuation of being. This interwoven style creates genuine and thought-provoking pieces.
“…head to the ruins of Gortyn Crete…Then you will know impertinence…There is no way out of this maze…It is only the rickety harbor/looking strange in the daylight that lifts the mist.”
In the context of the piece, readers explore the underground tunnels used during WWII as a shelter from war underneath the Church of St. Agios Dimitrios. Simultaneously, they are also immersed in the concept that the tunnels are part of a mythological Labyrinth of Crete. The life that is given in this piece is cyclical; it continues to exist in the confines of reality as well as the realm of fantasy.
Fantasy has the capacity to redefine how we look at reality as well. Muslim uses Asian folklore to explore how human emotions become enmeshed in cultures. She takes the art of storytelling and uses that to give us a glance into individual demons that may come upon people to answer a call to loneliness or to sate a need for revenge.
“…the mogwai snips the thread preventing you from being reborn into yet another lifetime of suffering. The monks down the street call her Mara. She reeks of the swamp of your youth, the mangrove swamp where you drowned the ones you lured, who had to die.”
It is haunting that Muslim uses demons to portray these emotions. Demons are symbolic for torture, but she conveys the fears that the demons possess rather than the fears a person confronts when faced by such a creature. Readers are afraid of what the demon is capable of whilst sympathizing with the agony the demon is tortured with. However in pieces such as, “The Ghosts of Sailors”, anguish is presented as more simplistic. “Swell with us in the sea of pain.” As a collection, Muslim’s work remains a chilling, awe-inspiring insight into the capacity for human despair.
Muslim collapses the barriers between reality and fantasy. Her remarkable ability to deviate from traditional storytelling to an analytical look at human emotion demonstrates her own unique insight of the world. Muslim’s writing lingers in the imagination of the unknown.