Lauren Beukes' Zoo City has wormed its way into my imagination. Months after reading it, I'm still thinking about the strange, yet familiar world Ms. Beukes created. It's possible that my life experience and tastes* have made me unusually prepared to love this book, but Zoo City did receive the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award so I am by no means alone in my enthusiasm.
The Zoo City of the title is a slum region of Johannesburg, South Africa inhabited primarily by the animalled. The plot is a hard-boiled mystery with twists, betrayals, muti, and a flawed, reluctant detective.
You're probably wondering who the animalled are, and how they came to be outcasts on the fringe of society. Short answer: they are responsible for the death of at least one person, and marked for their crime by the presence of, well, an animal.
Zinzi December, recovering addict and former journalist, is partnered by a sloth**; her lover Benoît, a refuge from the Congo, carries a mongoose. The animal phenomenon is relatively recent (the first recorded cases appeared in the '80s) and poorly understood. Theories abound, but to add to the mystery, those who have an animal are also given a supernatural talent. Zinzi has the ability to find lost objects, which is how she gets caught up in a missing person investigation.
Part of my enjoyment of this book came from the chapters that hint at how different parts of the world have reacted to the appearance of animals.Bits of academic articles, an IMDB entry for a documentary, along with character discussions of celebrity gossip, it's all recognizable, but viewed through a fun house mirror. To add to the fun, there's an official soundtrack for the book. I highly recommend checking it out because the South African music scene plays a big part in the novel. Take a listen here: soundcloud.com/africandope/sets/zoo-city-soundtrack
And Ms. Beukes has a highly entertaining blog on her website: laurenbeukes.com
*Was anyone else picturing the actor who plays creepy David Genaro from Rhythm City as SPOILER?
**I can't resist the chance to link Kristen Bell's sloth meltdown
~Sarah, Adult Services