Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City (2010) by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City (2010) is a Stand Alone book  by Lauren Beukes 

Genres and Sub-GenresEdit

UF / edge of Horror

Book Description or Overview Edit

Alex has a talent for finding lost things. To save herself, she's got to find the hardest thing of all: The truth. ~ Zoo City by Lauren Beukes ~ FF

Zoo City is set in an alternate version of the South African city of Johannesburg, in which people who have committed a crime are magically attached to an animal familiar – those who receive such punishment are said to be "animalled". The novel's chief protagonist, Zinzi December, is a former journalist and recovering drug addict who was "animalled" to a sloth after getting her brother killed. Zinzi is attempting to repay the financial debt she owes her drug dealer by charging people for her special skill of finding lost objects, as well as making use of her writing abilities by drafting 419 fraud emails. The book's plot focuses on Zinzi's attempts to find the missing female member of a brother-and-sister pop duo for a music producer, in return for the money she needs to fully repay her dealer. ~ Zoo City - Wikipedia

World Building Edit

Setting Edit

Set in an alternate Johannesburg, South Africa

Supernatural Elements Edit

Animal posession, healer (shaman), 

World Edit

This is a world in which people who commit murder immediately become permanent hosts to living animals. Imagine that the scarlet letter on Hester Prynne's chest is a furry mammal—or perhaps a spider, a bird, or a reptile. Animalled people must keep their animals physically close, or they will suffer terrible pain. If an animal dies, a shadowy, roaring mass called the Undertow drops down from above to engulf and obliterate its host. The animals serve as a constant reminder of the crime that brought them into their hosts' lives. Along with the animal comes a psychic talent—a shavi—different for each person. In this book, the plague of animal possession—called Aposymbiotism—dates back to the 1980s in a not-so-subtle reference to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

This idea of animal possession is a part of several real-world mythologies. According to Zimbabwean tradition, the mashavi (singular, shavi) are spirits believed to possess people and to impart skills and talents to their human hosts. In Christianity, the idea of spirit animals can be linked to the biblical scapegoat of Leviticus 16 and to the burden of sin carried by the protagonist in Pilgrim's Progress. Chapter 19 of Zoo City presents a detailed explanation of what mashavi means in this story, so you may want to read that chapter before reading the story to get a full understanding.

In the world of Zoo City, an animal arrives seemingly from nowhere immediately after the commission of each person's murderous crime, changing its host's life forever. As Zinzi says, "the problem with being mashavi is that it's not so much a job as a vocation. You don't get to choose the ghosts that attach themselves to you. Or the things they bring with them." (p. 18) As you can well imagine, Aposymbiots (aka animalled people) are marginalized—forced to live in ghettos like Zoo City, where they create their own lively sub-culture. When "normal" people see an animalled person, they have the same reaction that a Nazi in Hitler's Germany would have had when he or she encountered a person wearing a yellow star of David on a coat or jacket. Here, one character fumes after a security guard pulls him out of his car and grills him at length, "Animalists everywhere....They'd bring back the quarantine camps if they could." Zinzi responds: "What do you call Zoo City?" (p. 107)

Muti (aka magic) is an important part of the story. The magical concept of mashavi is key to the story's conflict as well as being the single most important element in the lives of the animalled people of Zoo City. Most of the people of this alternate Johannesburg believe in magic and regularly make use of herbs, charms, and spells to make their lives easier and safer. In one dramatic scene, Zinzi, the heroine, visits a sangoma (a healer) who feeds her a potion that gives her hallucinatory flashbacks to terrible past incidents in her life as well as frightening visions of the future.

Sidekick Edit

  • Name: / What: / Sidekick-to: / About: / Book First Seen:

Characters Chart Edit

Characters What About
Zinzi December former journalist and recovering addict received Sloth, her animal, five years ago when she was instrumental in the death of her brother. She now does scam jobs.

With the animalling one does also receive a power, which in Zinzi's case is being able to find lost things. She makes her job out of it and eventually has to find a lost person.

Mrs. Luditsky elderly woman hired Zinzi to find ring; murdered, Zinzi accused;
Benoit Zinzi's semi-boyfriend Works in building for Elias, who is sick. He is actually married, but was split up with his wife and children trough war. That was 5 years ago, and in the book he receives a message that they are found again. So he is planning on going to them, what hurts Zinzi who actually does love Benoit.

His animal is a Mongoose, he 'earned' it when he was forced to murder his friend while he was in a childrens army. The animal actually came 11 years later, when the mashavi actually came.

Maltese (also: the Dog guy, Mark)

and Marabou (also: Amira)

First introduced p. 17

Owners of Marabou & Maltese Procurements Want Zinzi to find a lost person. Zinzi doesn't trust them a lot, but because she really needs the money to pay of her drugs debits, she takes the job.
Vuyo Member of 'The Company', which holds Zinzi's drugdebts. To refund the drugdebts them, Zinzi writes scamletters for him. Sometimes Zinzi goes with him to act like a poor helpless refugee girl to trick out money from rich white people.

Sometimes Vuyo searches information for Zinzi, which add to her already staggering debt.

Emmanuel and D'Nice Benoits friends Just all fun and games.

To expand the table, in Edit–Visual mode, right-press on a Row of the table or Column (Control-press on a Mac)—choose add Row or Column.

Lauren Beukes bw

Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes

Author Edit

Lauren Beukes

Bio: Lauren Beukes is a recovering journalist, TV scriptwriter, award-winning columnist and writer (aka glorified typist). She lives in Cape Town with her husband and daughter. ~ FF

✤ Beukes, born in Johannesburg, currently lives in Cape Town. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. She worked as a freelance journalist for ten years, including two years in New York and Chicago. ~ Wikipedia

Cover ArtistEdit

Awards Edit

  • Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
  • Shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel
  • Winner of the Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel

Zoo City / Lauren Beukes :: Angry Robot Books

Publishing InformationEdit

Book Cover Blurb Edit

Zinzi 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 paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite 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. ~ Lauren Beukes (author) and Goodreads

First Sentence Edit

  • In Zoo City, it's impolite to ask.

Quotes Edit

Trivia Edit


Awards Edit

Read Alikes (suggestions) Edit

— If you like these, you may like this:

  • Category links at bottom of page

Notes Edit

See Also Edit

External References Edit



World, Characters, etc:







Community, Fan Sites: