Zoo City

By Lauren Beukes
Reviewed by SA

Some of you may be following my increasing obsession with Lauren Beukes’s books, so you probably won’t be surprised by how excited I was to read Zoo city. Well, it blew my mind. So much so that I’m not really sure where to begin this review, only maybe in saying that you might need a seatbelt for this ride.


Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit, and a talent for finding lost things. When a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, Zinzi’s forced to take on her least favorite kind of job–missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives–including her own.

In this re-imagined, alternate Johannesburg, people carry around their guilts and their sins around quite literally. They’ve been animaled: their guilt has been personified as a living creature they must care for, else they won’t live very long. One upside to all this: once you’ve been animaled, you pick up a skill, or ability. In Zinzi’s case, the ability to find lost things.

Zinzi is a brilliant character, practically living and breathing right off the pages. Her life is in no way normal: her animal is a Sloth, coming from the guilt of the death of her brother, in which she was somehow involved and was rewarded with a mangled ear and a magical ability to boot. She runs internet scams in order to make a living, taking on small search missions to earn a bit extra. She lives with the rest of the Zoos – a slang term for the animaled – in Zoo city, a ghetto area filled with sex, drugs, and even voodoo.

In order to pay off her debt, she takes on a missing person’s case – which she avoids doing on a general basis – in which she is asked to find a teenage music star, the second half of the duo iJusi. As she fights to solve the mystery, she’s thrown into a world of magic, addiction, scams and even murder. What is really going on here? Is there more than meets the eye?

Beukes incredible universe will sweep you off your feet. Randomly injected with papers and articles that shed more light on the animaled, there is just so much left unsaid and unanswered that will both frustrate and thrill you. Relationships were believable and intense as well as tense, and the final twist at the end will leave you shocked and wishing for more.

While this book has been out for a while now, Mulholland Books is re-publishing it (as well as Moxyland) this very month. So what are you waiting for?

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