The main character of Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City is a former freelance journalist named Zinzi December. Zinzi is cool, intelligent and carries some big mental baggage. Despite her flaws, you will love her almost immediately. Zinzi lives in Zoo City, which is essentially a slum in Johannesburg for people who have been burdened with animals. In the world of Zoo City, people are magically attached to animals after they’ve done something particularly awful. People with animals are the outcasts of society, and the more conspicuous the animal the harder it is to lead a normal life. Zinzi carries a sloth, which isn’t the easiest critter to conceal.
Since Zinzi is not able to work a real job due to her fuzzy companion, she makes ends meet by using her natural ability to find lost things for people. On one of this lost item cases she stumbles onto a murder, which starts a chain of events that will change her life forever.
The South African setting is unique, and I was completely immersed in the world. Beukes paints a hip and gritty view of Johannesburg that is totally captivating. Her writing is sharp with detail, but never overburdened with description. I was able to get a feel for the environment everywhere Zinzi went.
The characters in Zoo City are clearly defined and interesting to read about. Everyone has a dark past that lurks in the background. You are constantly left wondering what they did to get their animal. This can be frustrating at times since those back stories are only lightly touched upon, even those of the main characters. In later works, I hope Beukes continues some of the stories she started in Zoo City.
My experience with Zoo City was one to be remembered. The story takes many unexpected turns. Things that seem important at the time often turn out to be not much at all. At times this left me scratching my head wondering what just happened, but it usually worked out in a surprising way. I recommend keeping an open mind to the flow of the story when reading Zoo City and trust that the end will justify the means.
Beukes is a gifted writer. Her abilities with description and dialog alone put her in a special category. Zoo City is a clever and unique piece of fiction, and a fantastic addition to the Angry Robot library. I listened to Zoo City on CD from Brilliance Audio. The narration is done by Justine Eyre. Justine does a wonderful job giving life to the characters, and I highly recommend the audio version of this book. —Justin Blazier for FantasyLiterature.com