Abigail Hilton's Reviews > Zoo City

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
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's review
Oct 08, 2011

really liked it
Read in January, 2011 — I own a copy

This was a stunningly original novel with terrific writing and a strong character voice. In the world of Zoo City, anyone who has ever killed someone gets a magic animal that is both their curse and a kind of redemption. If the animal dies, the person is taken by the terrifying Undertow. Along with the animal, comes some kind of magical ability, usually small-scale. Our protagonist, Zinzi, can trace lost things.

The story is set in war-torn, refugee-riddled South Africa, where plenty of "animalled" people are running around. In Johannesburg, these people end up in the ghetto of Zoo City. Our protagonist, a recovering addict recently released from prison, is trying to make a new life for herself. On the surface, it would seem that her sloth (the animal, not the character flaw) is holding her back. However, you don't have to spend long inside Zinzi's head to realize that she is her own worst enemy. In a world of drugs, magic, crime, and truly ugly murders, Zinzi struggles to find some kind of redemption.

If you enjoy dark, dystopian novels, you don't want to miss this one. It *is* pitch black. If you couldn't stomach The Hunger Games, this isn't a book for you.

I truly enjoyed the world-building of Zoo City. Ms. Beukes makes a bizarre concept feel real. I also enjoyed the characters, who were both flawed and believable. I did find the plot a bit confusing. This is one of those first-person narratives in which you're not actually privy to many of the protagonist's thoughts. Consequently, I often didn't understand why Zinzi was doing what she was doing. For much of the book, she's investigating. She goes places and talks to people, and I couldn't always follow her line of logic in doing so. In addition, a tantalizing series of magical emails is never explained at the end of the book.

However, most of the time, it didn't matter that I couldn't understand why are protagonist had chosen to arrive at a certain location. The action was enough to hold me, and major plot-points are mostly clear by the end. If you enjoy creative world-building and dystopian novels, give this one a look.

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