“Zoo City” by Lauren Beukes
“Zoo City” is a short story by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer who’s written short stories, novels, news articles and television scripts. It is an excerpt from her novel of the same name, and set in Johannesburg, the author’s birthplace. I chose it because the excerpt itself may be published exclusively online, as a digital teaser to the print novel, which I think is a cool strategy by the author.
The story itself was really enthralling fantasy. The premise is criminals are called “zoos” or “animalled” and are assigned an animal familiar that they must carry around, marking them as criminals. In Johannesburg, there is a concentration of criminals in ghettos, but Beukes makes it clear that zoos exist around the world. She Hillbrow as one of the places her protagonist, Zinzi, frequents in her line of work. Zinzi has a sloth familiar and with it, magical abilities to find lost things. This novel excerpt follows Zinzi on a day that begins typical and becomes extraordinary when one of her clients is murdered. It ends on a cliffhanger to encourage readers to by the full-length work.
I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to people who like fantasy stories. The premise is very interesting, and some of the words Beukes’s used reminded me of Achebe’s idea that African writers use English in a unique way. Words like “scrolf,” “skritching” and “slops” were words I’d never heard before and gave the piece a non-American feel. It also had a little dialog in Lingala that was explained using context clues.
This was an awesome read from Ms. Beukes that I encourage everyone to check out.