Lauren Beukes – Zoo City

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 favourite kind of job – missing persons.

You don’t need me to tell you what a great novel this is; Zoo City has been shortlisted for both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award and has already won last year’s Kitschies Red Tentacle Award *grins* But just in case you’ve missed all the rave reviews in the blogosphere and hadn’t realised what a fantastic book this is, please let me add my voice to the chorus of well-deserved praise and excuse me while I turn into a jabbering fan girl for a bit.

The book is based on a great concept, that of the zoos and the Undertow. Zoos are people that have committed some sort of felony, their animal is the personification of this act and in the end will led to their being swallowed by the Undertow. The main character in Zoo City is a zoo called Zinzi, whose animal is a Sloth. Though she is our narrator, she isn’t the one to give us all the background on the Zoos or the aposymbiots, as they are called more scientifically. We find out most of the background information through little add-ins interspersed in Zinzi’s narrative. For example, there is a recap of a documentary on an IMDB-like site, some excerpts of interviews with zoos and even a psychological article on the treatment of zoos who fear the Undertow. I loved these as they gave real depth to this reality, which is earth, but not our earth. What was funny was that when I read the book, it took place about two weeks from when I was reading and that made me check the date each time and then chuckle.

I found it very refreshing that Zoo City is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, not one of the regular ‘Western’ cultures. It’s nice to have a glimpse, even if a little slanted by the speculative of a different culture. At the same time, the book had me bouncing every time there was some Afrikaans. I’m such a geek when I find words from or closely related to my native language, which doesn’t happen that often. Plus it made the world feel at once alien and familiar. This reinforced the fact that this was our world, but not quite the same as we live in. Zoo City is urban fantasy in the best sense of the word, where the city is not just the backdrop for the story, but gives it form and flavour.

Ms Beukes does such a fabulous job with Zinzi. Here’s this girl, with a sordid, troubled past, running these horrid 419 scams and somehow she made me love Zinzi. There are so many facets to her, that you can’t help but like her. In addition, Zinzi creates plenty of fist pump moments, the biggest of which came for me when she got even with her ex, that was so good! I loved or loved to hate most of Ms Beukes’ characters, but Zinzi is rather special.

Ms Beukes’ lovely writing makes for an immersive, smooth reading experience and I read the book in one sitting, well lying actually as I was sick in bed, but that was not the point. The point is that Zoo City is completely stunning and highly recommended. It’s a fantastic book, which I can’t urge you enough to read. And if my rave, the raves of a large part of the blogosphere and the award nominations weren’t enough, just look at that cover, tell me that gorgeous cover isn’t enough to at least pick the book up?

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