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Excerpt from What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What We Fed to the Manticore

by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri X
What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri
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    Sep 2022, 200 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Katharine Blatchford
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The Good Donkey

I am not pleased. Paint is dripping down my hoof and the colors are muddled together. I shouldn't complain. I agreed to it, of course.

Hafiz is putting together a zoo. And he asked me to be the zebra.

"You're a very good donkey, habibi," he told me three days ago, "but the border is closed, and everyone says prices for using the smuggling tunnels have gone up. I can't afford the zebra in Damascus, and the one in Cairo is twice that price." He gestured wildly, scattering my oats. What a waste.

I don't know much about borders, but I would do anything for Hafiz. He is more than a father to me.

And so here I am, Hafiz painting me in black and white stripes. He has hung two torches from the ceiling with strings, to use when the power is cut, and the one above me swings gently, pitching its light back and forth and making me dizzy. Hafiz has stopped in the middle, and knowing him, the paint will dry unevenly and I will look awful. And then what kind of zebra will I be?

We are in my little stable behind the house when the knocking starts. The door is flimsy. The building is flimsy. And so things around us tremble when anyone raps on it. He should be paying attention to me and to what he is doing, but he goes any- way. It's always like this with Hafiz and me. I am here. He goes. There is always someone else. He returns. And I am still here.

This time he returns with several men I don't recognize. They're gathered in clusters, some with their backs to me. They speak in low voices, and every so often one of them grunts as though he is carrying something heavy.

"This is the man I was telling you about," says one of the strangers.

"Masha'Allah, it's good that you are here and willing to take them in," says another to Hafiz.

"Yes, yes, of course, bring them in." Hafiz opens the doors wide. "Alhamdulillah. They are alive; that's all that matters."

"Where do you want them?" asks another stranger. This one sounds angry. Or irritated. They all struggle through the main area of my stable, as though they aren't used to carrying things.

"Over here. Here by my ... over here." Hafiz has led them to me. There is a bed of hay that I like to lie on, and Hafiz has brought them to it. He isn't sure what to call me at this precise moment. I am half done and dripping paint. I try to catch his eye so I can stare at him pointedly, but he's busy smoothing the hay—my hay—into a round and even mound.

I don't like the way these strangers smell. Sweaty, and a little like gasoline. They crowd near me with two large bundles, several men to each bundle.

"Are they sedated?" Hafiz asks.

"Yes," says the first man. He must be the leader, because he isn't carrying anything. "For the journey. Also, they are tame.

They've been hand-raised since birth. Like house cats." The leader puts his hands on his hips as he watches the others, and smiles widely.

"Have they been in a zoo before?" Hafiz stands with the leader and watches the others lay two enormous, rough cloth bundles on my hay. He runs a hand over his beard, in the same measured rhythm he uses when he brushes me.

"Yes, yes. They were in a little zoo in Beit Hanoun," the leader says. "The zoo was lucky to have them, you know." Hafiz nods. I walk closer to him and stand at his shoulder. Hafiz reaches back and starts to scratch my chin. We both watch the bundles as they start moving. I smell something musky. Familiar, but I can't place it.

"The female was stolen." The leader reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of cigarettes. Hafiz watches warily as the man lights one and gestures toward one of the bundles with the lit end. "She was missing for three months. We found her with a bunch of bandits. They were charging families to take photos with her. But, you know, they mistreated her, so she's skittish.

Excerpted from What We Fed to the Manticore Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri. Published with permission from Tin House. Copyright (c) 2022 by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri.

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