Book Review: Zoo City

In the near future the guilty are allocated an animal to signify their burden. Johannesburg, South Africa is darker and dirtier than we know it, and Zinzi December is in the middle of it – the violence, the drugs and the dirty scams.

Zinzi is also gifted, as all the animalled are. She has a penchant for finding lost things, but she insists: No stolen goods. No people. Definitely no missing persons.

Until finding a missing teeny-bopper will be her opportunity to escape a life she was not bred for. A chance to denounce the hand-to-mouth existence, scrambling to find the missing threads of other lives. But never, never to escape the threat of the undertow.

Zoo City is possibly the first work of Urban Fantasy I have read, and I loved it. The cover has been attracting me for a couple of years, but the premise did not do much for me at the time. Perhaps I was not ready for it. One certainly cannot expect to find open cards in Zoo City – oh no. The book is as mysterious as the city itself, and only patience is rewarded with explanations. Be prepared to extrapolate, to guess, to read between the lines, to page back to previous paragraphs. It is part of the magic of the book.

The world building of Zoo City is phenomenal, the plot original. Zoo City is delightfully dark and dangerous, and Beukes effortlessly weaves history and music culture into this sketch of urban dystopia. Twists in the plot will have readers gasping unexpectedly for their breath – don’t expect pretty.

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As for the South African setting, I find it very well done – and no, Johannesburg is not that bad (yet?). A lot of local jargon and terms from the country’s eleven official languages interject the text, which I assume can be quite confusing for international readers. My suggestion: GOOGLE – it works quite well with some of the terms. However, none of the terms are used in such a way that an international reader will lose the plot.

It is difficult for a review to do justice to Zoo City – it is just so different to what I am used to; thrilling in a whole new way.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: Zoo City

  1. I’m reading this now, and I have to admit some of the terms are throwing me out of the story a bit. I’m just about half-way through, and not sure what to think yet, but I’m enjoying the reading experience.

    1. Are we talking the foreign-language terms? They’re mostly atmospherical. Like, they’ll say “skattebol”, which is basically like “darling”, and just fills a sentence. But I can understand that some of the atmosphere might go missing if you don’t understand the language or the culture itself.
      When an important bit of info is given in a different language, the next sentence always elaborates or explains. So you’re not missing out on the actual storyline, if that helps.
      If you have questions, I can try to answer!

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