Friday, January 20, 2012

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Posted by Simcha 3:05 AM, under | 6 comments


Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favorite kind of job – missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.

Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.


Zoo City is not my typical reading fare. It's dark and gritty and at times heart-breakingly sad. And yet, once I started it I just couldn't bring myself to put it down.

Zinzi December is a former journalist and recovering drug addict whose pet sloth attests to a horrible crime committed in her past. Shunned by society, Zinzi now uses her writing skills to compose spam letters, scamming the rich and soft-hearted out of their money. Zinzi lives in the the ghetto community of Zoo City, in Johannesburg, along with all of the other Aposymbiots, or zoos like herself, whose crimes have earned them an animal companion, from which they can't be parted. But being zoo isn't all bad because it also comes with a magical skill. For Zinzi that skill is finding lost things, a talent that lands her a side-job with the music producer, Odi Huron, to find a teenage pop star who has gone missing.

Zinzi doesn't usually take-on missing person cases but this job could earn her enough to get her back on the path of the straight and narrow, and so she reluctantly accepts it. Putting her sleuthing skills to work Zinzi goes in search of her missing pop-teen, but the trail ends up leading her to a series of zoo murders that may or may not be related to the girl that she is looking for.

Zoo City is a really unique book in so many different ways. First of all, the South African setting is a very unusual one for a genre book, as is the African history and culture that permeates it. You can see parallels between the spread of the Zoo Plague, which causes people's crimes to manifest as an animal that they are forced to shoulder, and the spread of HIV virus through Africa in the 1980's. Africa's grim political past also plays its role, such as in the case of Zinzi's boyfriend, Benoit, who was a child soldier forced to kill his best friend, which is how he earned the pet mongoose that lives by his side. Benoit also had a wife and several children who disappeared while fleeing the FDLR. As I said, it's a rather dark tale. But Zinzi's strength, wit and optimistic attitude sheds enough light to keep the story from becoming overwhelmingly depressing.

The book did not end as I had expected, getting even more gruesome before culminating in a bittersweet ending that left me feeling both sad and hopeful. I haven't been able to find any information about a sequel to Zoo City but I really hope that Beukes intends to write one because there is so much more I still want to know about Zinzi and Zoo Plague. In the meantime, I'll be checking out her other book, Moxyland, in the hope that it's as good as this one was.

6 comments:

I am very unsure about this one, I do not go no but I do not go yes either...just unsure

This sounds really different, especially since there's a parallel with real-life events that makes the story just that much darker.

This sounds like a book I would like and hate. Like because of the real aspects but horrified at the same time. Oh I think I'd have to be in the mood for this one.

i've never heard of this book before. it doesn't look like my usual read either but interesting premise with the zoo plauge. i don't think i've ever read a book set in south africa.

I really enjoyed this book. :) It was unique but a very interesting read.

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