The Bestiary is the tale of Xeno Atlas, a boy who has always been surrounded by people with an affinity for animals, and who grows up and takes up the quest to find the Caravan Bestiary, a book that records the animals that Noah did not include on the ark.
Xeno definitely doesn’t live a normal life. His mother died in childbirth, and his father is ever after distant. He’s raised by his maternal grandmother, but because of his mother’s supposedly scandalous marriage to his father (a much older, non-Sicilian), the rest of her family will have nothing to do with him. When his grandmother dies, his father packs him off to a boarding school in Maine, and it’s here that he first hears of the Caravan Bestiary. The Bestiary was last known to be Venice in the 13th century. Rumors abound of its continued existence. For a long time it was considered heresy, and therefore may have been destroyed. About the only thing people do know is that it was a fascinating, beautiful book. (I have no idea if the Bestiary is based on a true life-book or not. The author never says.)
Xeno spends a good portion of his life, briefly interrupted by a tour in Vietnam, looking for the Bestiary. Along the way, he meets a number of interesting people, and is able to cross paths again with people he had known before. The search is really a metaphor for his growth as a person.
It’s a interesting book with well made characters, although I wasn’t very satisfied with most of the main resolutions. They certainly made sense, but almost all of them didn’t quite work out in a way that seemed to me to be completely consistent with what had come in the story before. Still, I’d recommend this book for a good light read any day.