Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

(9.5/10) If you are looking for a book that makes you think, pick this one up.

Book of the Year 2010 (see all)

Zinzi December 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 pay check, she's forced to take on her least favourite kind of job: missing persons.

I found this book really throws you into the deep end, leaving you guessing at the full extent of the how the world Lauren Beukes creates is different from our own. Zoo City, set in Johannesburg, invites us into the lives of the undesirables that the majority of the population like to pretend do not exist. But if they have to acknowledge them they will do so to blame them for all the world’s problems. At the same time, although you are thrown into the deep end it doesn’t mean that you’re frustrated as you’re given just enough information to keep you intrigued. Which gives you enough time to connect with the lead character Zinzi December, the so-called heroine of the novel. Zinzi is a survivor who has a talent for finding lost items for people and she ends up getting dragged into a hunt for a missing person, and that’s where her troubles begin…

Zinzi and her friends, enemies and lovers are realistically described to expose the rotten underbelly of Johannesburg, which is shown as divided between the have and have-not's. Zinzi herself will use people to gain the information she needs to track down the missing person, and at the same time we get to see that Zinzi has a lot to learn about the world and her feelings as most of the book she seems to have built armour to keep her from connecting truly to people.

Of course - being a fantasy review site - this isn’t a gritty crime novel. Although you will not find wizards or goblins here, what you will find is an intriguing “what if?” urban fantasy story that gives a twist to the contemporary world we live in. If I forgot to mention before, this story involves animals and magic, that fits into the world of Zoo City. As well as inviting questions as to why people who are different from the norm are treated in different circumstances.

This makes the book sound very serious, but the characters and the situation are written in such a way that there is some humour in the darkness as people look to live, love and survive in a world with as many hidden dangers as there are everyday ones.

If you are looking for a book that makes you think, pick this one up.

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