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On the plus side, each has a special semi-magical talent. For Zinzi, her power lies in getting mental pictures of things that people have lost, a skill she harnesses to make a living.
At first, the premise for the zoo people sounds silly. When her elderly client turns up murdered, her financial straits force her to take on a less preferred type of case, that of a missing person.
A wealthy, reclusive music producer contracts her to find a missing teen Afro-pop star. Using traditional gumshoe methods, she works up the usual range of subjects posing as a journalist, giving us a tour of the music scene and the lifestyles of the haves and have nots.
When dangers and threats emerge from rocks she turns over, she uses her wits to survive more than the overused kickass toughness. The sloth helps watch her back in some cases, but largely is along for the ride.
The detective work in an exotic city is satisfying. As with typical noir heroes, Zinzi has a good heart, but is jaded and compromised from past mistakes.
The whole bit about how and why she, and others, are cursed with the animal symbiosis is the elephant in the room.
From the beginning, all we know is that for her it has something to do with her recovery from addiction, which feels like some kind of Faustian bargain.
The negative attitudes that the larger society places on the zoo people feels like some kind of metaphor for the aftermath of apartheid.
In other ways, the burden of the animal link has religious overtones, like a Christian cross to bear for sins committed, some kind of voodoo punishment, or a twist on Hindu reincarnation.
There is meat in the rest of the book for the reader to explore and dwell on these possibilities. Perhaps if I could digest a little better the shocking climax in the light of these questions, I would see a way to up my rating.
I am impressed enough to read the other book by this talented writer, her debut dystopic novel Moxyland. View all 10 comments. Zoo City , impossible to pigeon-hole is it science fiction?
These criminals, dubbed "zoos", easily identified with animals in tow, are often ostracized and segregated to ghettoes called Zoo Cities.
The sinuous plot primarily focuses on one of these "zoos", Zinzi December, a 29 year-old woman who in her FL former life was convicted in her drug-fueled days for causing the murder of her brother and sentenced to carrying with her a sloth, shadily makes a living by carrying out internet scams and, on the side, finding lost items for people thanks to an ESP-esque talent acquired along with the sloth.
She's contracted by a music producer to find a the female half of a young twin Afropop sensation iJusi, who has gone missing. Beukes fascinating alterna-world building makes the novel worth exploring even as the plot gets a thick and weird There were parts I couldn't quite fathom, not being familiar with South African customs, places, and pop culture whether real or imaginary.
She's got a few more books to explore including at least one set in the States ; I hope to eventually read them all. She's super talented.
View all 11 comments. I enjoyed it more than expected. Beukes is my first South African author and it is quite refreshing to read a speculative fiction book set in alternate version of Johannesburg.
I love the slangs, the worldbuilding, the city lives, and of course the animal familiars in there. Sloth is cute! The book is fast paced but sometimes it is easy to get lost in the details.
The main character is so deliciously cheeky and witty, I love reading her thoughts and dialogues. Still confus 3. Still confused why this is considered as SF it won the Clarke Award and not fantasy.
Oh well, will mark as both just in case. This takes place in a world where whenever people feel extreme guilt, an animal will manifest and follow them around as a physical sign.
Because of the guilt factor, those with animals are unpopular in society and have to live i This takes place in a world where whenever people feel extreme guilt, an animal will manifest and follow them around as a physical sign.
Because of the guilt factor, those with animals are unpopular in society and have to live in their own section of society.
And while the main character does help people find things, she also takes part in scams to rid people of their money. That is one of many detours the book took while solving a mystery.
This book was so gritty and noir and atmospheric, the characters complex and often unlikable,and the writing was lovely. There are also lots of hints about what happened to the main character and why she has a sloth around her neck, and while in some ways it is obvious, in other ways you have to piece it together as you read.
I also felt that there were some flaws in how the plot was put together, but overall it was a very compelling and unique read. While I'm not usually a big fan of urban fantasy, I really enjoy the writing style of Lauren Beukes , and loved her other novel Moxyland.
Her female characters are strong, flawed and cynical, but above all realistic and relatable. On top of that, the protagonist in this one has a sloth.
A sloth. Zoo City has one hell of an original premise - that people who commit a grave crime such as murder, find themselves bonded to a magical animal familiar, and should that animal die, a dark force called While I'm not usually a big fan of urban fantasy, I really enjoy the writing style of Lauren Beukes , and loved her other novel Moxyland.
Zoo City has one hell of an original premise - that people who commit a grave crime such as murder, find themselves bonded to a magical animal familiar, and should that animal die, a dark force called "The Undertow" claims that person - and yet this never seems to stretch credibility.
That in itself is quite a feat. For me, it would have been much more satisfying had the "rules" been made clear, though.
For example: Does it apply only to murderers? On what basis is a person deemed truly responsible for the act in question? To really give myself over to fantasy, I find that I really need to understand the internal logic.
The same applies to the different forms of traditional and animal magic that form a large part of the plot.
As someone who has a working knowledge of many forms of cultural and traditional "magic", I found the logic to some of the spells and practices to be rather unclear, and therefore slightly less credible.
One of my favourite elements to this novel is Beukes' incorporation of local language and pop culture. The book is riddled with language and slang from various parts of the African continent and from various cultures.
For the most part, the meaning of the words can be inferred from the context, but I did find myself spending a lot of time Googling all the same.
Many of the words are surprisingly ungooglable, my own word! Throughout the book, there is a lot of background information given on historical, political and civil issues from across the African continent.
The references given at the back are well worth a read, and as valuable an exercise as the novel itself.
Beukes not only thoroughly researched the specialised topics in her novel, but had a lot of guest writers involved in writing faux news articles, research papers, movie reviews etc.
My favourite section was a set of prison interviews written by Sam Wilson. In three short case studies, barely two and a half pages in total, Wilson conveys a full spectrum of human experience and emotion, and hints at the potential of the central premise to be used as a basis for many more stories.
I will remember the story about butterflies in prison forever, I'm sure. For me, structure, balance and symmetry are important in a novel, and I really found this to be an oddly unbalanced structure.
I'm not sure it needed to be broken up into two parts, since there wasn't an enormous difference between the two.
Part Two also seemed rushed, with the author racing to wrap things up, along the way skipping many of the details that could have made this a really wonderful novel.
Don't be put off by my 3 Star rating - it's really more of a 3. I did enjoy the novel. I do really, really want a sloth. I'm just a little disappointed that the book didn't fully realise its potential.
I look forward to Beukes' next novel all the same. This is not your average urban fantasy. It's set in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a world where murderers and other criminals acquire magical animals that are mystically bonded to them.
Zinzi December is an addict whose drug habit got her brother killed, and thus burdened her with her Sloth companion and a magical talent for finding lost things.
She's a very flawed protagonist, but very belie This is not your average urban fantasy. She's a very flawed protagonist, but very believable, a woman who's not a bad person but has made some really bad choices and is now swimming with sharks as a result.
Beukes's world is interesting, both the animal companions with their mashavi talents coexisting with the modern world, and her dark, gritty portrayal of South Africa, with all of its poverty, homelessness, refugees, sex trafficking, drugs, and AIDS.
The story gets a little bit choppy towards the end, and while I liked the fake magazine articles and academic essays describing the nature and history of the "animalled," it felt a bit like filler in places.
Still, a good read that's a little outside the mainstream. I give it 4. I wasn't sure to expect when I started reading this as I had no idea what it was about and bought it simply because the cover caught my eye.
I'm really pleased I bought it because I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It was such a fresh, original concept and quite unlike anything I've ever read before!
I really loved the whole concept of the animals and Zoo City, it completely drew me in right from the beginning.
I also really enjoyed that there was some magic mixed in but that it also had aspects of I wasn't sure to expect when I started reading this as I had no idea what it was about and bought it simply because the cover caught my eye.
I also really enjoyed that there was some magic mixed in but that it also had aspects of modern times mixed in as well.
All in all I absolutely loved this book and the world that the author created! Dec 22, Megan Baxter rated it really liked it.
So, I was reading , which was all about scams, and was very unimpressed. It wasn't perceptive, it didn't grab me, and the characters all seemed flat.
Move your gaze a week or so, and I start reading this urban fantasy set in Johannesburg, and although scams are only a very small part of what this book is about, the small space they occupied in this book was far more interesting and trenchant than the entire other book on the matter.
Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due So, I was reading , which was all about scams, and was very unimpressed.
Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.
In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook View all 5 comments. Jul 16, Jess The Bookworm rated it really liked it.
This book takes the reader into the nitty gritty of Johannesburg, the slums, the underworld, and at the same time it introduces a touch of magic in a very unique way.
Zinzi has committed a crime, and for that has been saddled with a connection with an Animal, a sloth, which she takes with her everywhere she goes.
Due to her Animal connection, she has also developed the ability to find the lost things of other people. She lives in Zoo City in the Joburg CBD, where other people with Animals live, w This book takes the reader into the nitty gritty of Johannesburg, the slums, the underworld, and at the same time it introduces a touch of magic in a very unique way.
She lives in Zoo City in the Joburg CBD, where other people with Animals live, who, due to their criminal backgrounds, are ostracized and "marked" with their Animal.
This book explores the dynamic of Johannesburg as a city, from it's slums in the CBD, to the more affluent suburbs to the north, while adding drama and flawed characters full of regrets that you somehow find yourself supporting.
Very strange, but very gripping. Oct 10, Kirstine rated it it was ok Shelves: r , mystery-and-crime , reviewed , 1-women , own-ebooks.
They make me sad, and for some reason all urban books are always pointing out the miserable conditions of our existence.
As I owned this book, I thought I might as well read it. People have been giving it good reviews and the premise is pretty interesting.
They also come with a gift or a curse, depending who you ask. For Zinzi December, our protagonist, her Sloth came with the talent of finding lost things.
Or people. This last part is what gets her involved in the subsequent mystery and crime solving. This is also where the story stops making a lot of sense.
Honestly, I have only a vague idea of what the story of this book is, and an even vaguer idea of how or what moves us forward. This book could have used another pages simply for explaining things properly.
View all 4 comments. Identity is a very fragile and ephemeral concept, and the philosophy surrounding identity fascinates me. We perform identity, wearing it like a costume.
Identity is not so much a costume as it is a negotation between two entities, for part of my identity is Identity is a very fragile and ephemeral concept, and the philosophy surrounding identity fascinates me.
Identity is not so much a costume as it is a negotation between two entities, for part of my identity is not just what I seem to be but how others see me and interact with me.
Instead of a tour of a corporate-dominated near future, Beukes spins a bit of alternate history our way. And if the animal dies, they are consumed by a cloud known as the Undertow.
The animalled, or apos, are thus identified as murderers beyond the shadow of any doubt, and are treated like outcasts. Zinzi, our intrepid narrator, has a Sloth.
Zinzi struggles to earn a living using her shavi —if you get an animal, you also get a minor superpower to go with it. In her downtime, she reluctantly composes new email scams for a company to whom she owes quite a bit of money.
From thereon out, Zoo City becomes a spiralling descent into the dank madness of a divided city. The plot is of the type that doubles back and folds up on itself several times over, which is not to say that it is too complex, but Beukes has skillfully tangled the various threads.
On the one hand, this is a missing person mystery, with Zinzi in the role of lead private investigator. On the other hand, Beukes explores some of the ramifications of her magic and what it means to have an animal.
The twin motifs of guilt and innocence are huge here in Zoo City , for they compound that problem of identity that Zinzi and every other person with an animal feels.
He has a Mongoose, and eventually we learn how he got it—the action of a terrified nineteen-year-old in genocidal Rwanda.
Like Zinzi, he bears an external marker of his guilt—but does that make him a bad person? Benoit discovers his wife and children might still be alive in a refugee camp outside of South Africa, so he resolves to leave Zinzi and find them.
Not only does this alter their relationship irrevoccably, it sets up an ending that is both poignant and nearly perfect.
As I mentioned earlier, Zoo City takes a sharp turn two thirds through. Just as it seems that the plot is winding down, Zinzi stumbles on to a larger game as people try to get rid of their animals without dying themselves in a particularly gruesome and costly manner.
But I wish it had been developed more gradually instead of suddenly exploding into the foreground in the last part of the book. Nevertheless, Beukes make up for it in the ending.
I love the ending. For Zinzi to escape these events completely unscathed would have been unrealistic and thematically unsatisfactory: after all, Zinzi still has to redeem herself for her actions as a scammer.
Yet she is, I remain convinced, a good person who deserves that chance—and a chance is exactly what Beukes gives her. At great personal cost and with no promise of success, Zinzi sets out to fill in for someone else, just as that person made a regular habit of filling in for another.
Because it all comes back to identity. Despite all the prejudice and hardship Zinzi endures as an impoverished, animalled Black person in South Africa, she realizes that there is one thing no one else can determine about her life: what she does.
Other people might judge her and construct their own versions of an identity for her, but that can never rob her of her ability to act on her own beliefs and convictions.
In Zoo City , Beukes hands us a protagonist with blood on her hands and a Sloth on her back, and in so doing she tells a story about a woman who reclaims her freedom to be who she wants, not who others expect her to be.
Aug 11, K. Charles added it Shelves: urban-fantasy , african. Second read for this fantasy. Hugely energetic mystery based around a brilliantly weird idea: people who commit serious crimes find themselves with linked animals, a bit like daemons but not nice--and if the animal dies, a weird shadowy doom comes for the person.
The exploration of the social impacts of this eg bad boy pop stars faking being animalled to look hard, or the issues of being animalled in prison and the documentary inserts are probably my favourite aspects of this--the plot is a bi Second read for this fantasy.
The exploration of the social impacts of this eg bad boy pop stars faking being animalled to look hard, or the issues of being animalled in prison and the documentary inserts are probably my favourite aspects of this--the plot is a bit thin, on second read, but it's more than made up for by the exuberant ideas and vivid depictions of Jo'burg and the chaotic life of Zoo City where the animalled people live.
There is a lot in here--muti, the dodgy world of manufactured pop stars, scammers, issues of child soldiers and a lot more--and it's a very loud non-stop ride.
Much fun. Dec 23, Sarah rated it liked it Shelves: fantasy , sff-book-club-challenge. Jul 24, Books rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , reviewed Zoo City is really hard to describe.
I promise you it will all be worth it in the end. Zinzi is a difficult protagonist to describe. That is only a small part of what makes Zinzi so extraordinary.
He plays a minimal role in the story, but the few interactions we have with him is enough to steal your heart. You know what impressed me most about this book?
Everything, really. But most of all, the story itself took center stage more than the characters, setting, and magical elements.
This can mostly be ascribed to Beukes expertly managing to make the fantastical seem plausible. Two things about this story that also stands out particularly is the nail-biting suspense at the pinnacle of the finale and what a magnificent finale!
She clearly put a lot of thought and effort into writing this book. Oct 09, Evgeny rated it liked it Shelves: fantasy. Nebraska outfitting company, hunting guide plead guilty.
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