So a while back I read Beukes’s The Shining Girls and thought it was brain-exploding but also pretty darn good, and then the Internet was like, yeah, well, we liked Beukes before she was cool when she wrote a little thing called Zoo City. And I was like, yeah, well, Internet Hipsters, I owned Zoo City via a Humble Bundle before I knew that I was going to know that Beukes was cool, and then my brain exploded again.
I actually started reading this back in October, but fate and forgetfulness meant that I didn’t finish it until, uh, February (who’s behind on her book posts?). Luckily, the book is just bonkers enough that I didn’t have to start over.
But it is bonkers. See, it takes place in this alternate present where criminals somehow (insert hand waving here) end up with Animals who hang out with them for the rest of ever, like Mice and Mongeese and in our hero Zinzi’s case, a Sloth. Said criminals also get a magic power, which can be almost anything; Zinzi’s power is to be able to find lost things.
Aside from the cool things (well, not sure about the Animal thing), Zinzi’s life is… not great. She lives in a Johannesburg slum called Zoo City where, as you may guess, lots of other people with Animals are stuck living, having been rejected from better places. She is also in debt to her drug dealer and repays him by writing scam emails à la those nice Nigerian princes and sometimes pretending to be the people she writes about in those emails when the potential benefactors come to call.
Is this bonkers enough yet? Because it keeps going — Zinzi gets involved in a lost item case that nearly gets her arrested, and then she gets recruited to find a missing pop star and then there’s this whole thing with Animals and an Undertow and… there is a lot going on here.
But in a good way! It helps that Zinzi is a really interesting character, super flawed but generally trying to be a good person in a bad situation, and the other people she meets are equally difficult to peg as good or bad, which is part of what keeps the mystery going. And the world that Beukes created is amazing — she includes between story chapters little snippets of books and news stories and the like that talk about when Animals started showing up and what the prevailing theories are and how people are using them for fame and this sort of second storyline does come into play at the end so don’t skip these seeming extras. The ending is, as I am coming to see is “as usual” for Beukes, crazypants enough to make perfect sense, once you’ve overthought it enough.
So if, like me, you’ve had this book sitting on your ereader since that long-ago Humble Bundle, or if it crosses your path at the library or bookstore, you should definitely give it a shot.
Recommendation: For fans of alternate realities and hand-wavey magic and books that force you to think real hard about things.