Group Read: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

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Group Read: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

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1mathgirl40
Jan 26, 2013, 10:33am

It's almost time for our February group read of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes! Who's joining me? I picked this up as part of the Humble E-book Bundle offering a few months ago and have been looking forward to reading it since.

2majkia
Jan 26, 2013, 11:38am

I'll be joining you. Not sure when I'll start it though.

3sandragon
Jan 27, 2013, 5:16am

I've got the book ready to go on my eReader. Won't start right away though. I want to get further into When Christ and His Saints Slept first.

4mamzel
Jan 28, 2013, 11:33am

I've been looking forward to this group read. I also got it from Humble Bundle.

5majkia
Feb 2, 2013, 6:50pm

Is anyone else reading this now? I confess, after 50 pages, I'm tempted to Pearl rule it. Going to give it a bit though. Wondering what everyone else thinks.

6cammykitty
Feb 2, 2013, 10:43pm

Majkia - I'm 141 pages into it. I'm not loving it, but at this point I'm going to stick it out. Rescuing child stars isn't my thing. I'd let them all rot as they wish. I was expecting interesting characters from Beukes, not likable characters, and so far we don't have anyone really likable. Interesting? The jury is still out. Moxyland was much better judging from the first 141 pages - and no, no one was terribly likable in Moxyland but the world she created was fascinating.

7cammykitty
Feb 2, 2013, 11:30pm

I just had an aha moment with Zoo City. I know this is her first novel written, not her first novel published, so it may have some first novel issues but I still trust her as an author. At page 141, it feels like she's still doing set up - which ideally, especially for US tastes, we'd be done with by now.

That said, this is where I think she's going. SPOILER WARNING: I'm thinking our poor little orphan afropop stars are a scam, just as much as all her little emails are a scam. They aren't orphans. Mom/Dad/Grandma - someone is still alive. They certainly aren't sweet - we know that already - and perhaps Songwewhatever is sick of the scam. & won't CocaCola hate it when they find they've been scammed.

As for me, the big question I have, which may make or break what I think of the novel, is what happened to her brother. She's been accused of killing another "December" which I assumed was her brother. So either a family member killed him and she took revenge, or she was wrongly accused of murdering him but did murder someone else, or someone came after him and she wasn't able to protect him and therefore felt so guilty about it that she feels she is a murderer, hence the sloth.

SPOILER IS OVER. SAFE TO READ NOW: & just as an FYI, corporations such as CocaCola creating "sponsor babies" - ie people who are made celebs and told how to live simply to sell a product - is a theme and person pet peeve of Beukes.

8mathgirl40
Feb 3, 2013, 9:00am

I've only just started, about 35 pages in, so I'll have to reserve judgement until I'm farther in the book. So far, though, I'm quite intrigued by the world Beukes has set up. The animals remind me of His Dark Materials but I wonder if they have a different kind of role here.

9majkia
Feb 3, 2013, 9:36am

I've decided to set Zoo City aside for now and read something else. Maybe I'll pick it back up. I'm just not drawn in. I liked the beginning but don't care a bit about any of the characters I've met, and like none of them. Hard for me to read a book when I really don't care what happens to the main characters.

10cammykitty
Feb 3, 2013, 3:22pm

8 Mathgirl, when you'll get farther in, it will become obvious that His Dark Materials is part of the germ that began Zoo City. She gives him a pretty clear nod, and some of the way the animals work in Zoo City is the same as the way they work in His Dark Materials. The main difference is that in Zoo City, the animals are a stigma and the sign of guilt/guilty feelings. I'm not sure which it is yet, guilt or guilty feelings.

9 Majkia, I think that's a good decision. If you're not into it yet, it's probably not for you. Like I said before, Beukes isn't into likable characters. Matter of fact, I'd say she's more interested in sociology than characterization.

11mamzel
Feb 4, 2013, 11:32am

I started the book and have gotten about half way through it (it's on my Kindle) this weekend. I don't read many books with a central black female character so I have to give it credit there. My problem with the book is the words in whatever non-English language they are spoked in, with no explanation. If this book was meant for reading outside South Africa then a little translating would have been helpful.

I'm still going to carry on with the story.

Cammy, from what I understand so far, her ear was taken off by the same bullet that killed her brother but I am still in the dark as far as what crime she was charged with. And I wonder what Beukes' take on Britanny Spears would be. ;-)

12cammykitty
Feb 4, 2013, 4:09pm

11 Yes - I was under the impression that her ear was damaged by the same bullet that killed her brother, but why does she say she killed her brother then? She says over and over again that she killed her brother and SPOILER that it happened after he dragged her out of someplace when she was totally messed up on drugs, and that she went to trial for it. It isn't murder when you fail to stop a bullet with your own head so... I'm thinking Beukes is messing with us. And like you say, what crime was she charged with? & LOL, I'm sure Beukes would have lots of sharp things to say about Britanny. ;)

13cammykitty
Feb 6, 2013, 10:01pm

Finished. Grumble grumble grumble. I can't believe she did that. Where were her editors? Grumble grumble grumble.

I'm great at suspending disbelief, but I ain't stoopid.

14mathgirl40
Feb 6, 2013, 11:13pm

>13 cammykitty:: Uh oh, that doesn't sound good. I'm only a third of the way in but still enjoying it so far and hoping I won't be grumbling as well when I get to the end. :)

15wonderlake
Feb 7, 2013, 4:47am

This was on my radar as I downloaded a sample on my Kindle, and my reservation for the full book has become available from the library, but I'm a bit worried by all the lack of love for it on here !!

16clfisha
Edited: Feb 7, 2013, 5:54am

I really liked it when I read it this year & I loved Zinzi (the main character) although she is flawed enough I can see she may not to be to everyone's taste's

Be interested to see why the ending was so irritating? Its been long enough for me so the mysteries resolution is hazy but I loved the actual ending I thought it was perfect. No criticism since we are all different but I am intrigued!

EDIT: You just answered in your review :) sorry just saw it!

17mathgirl40
Feb 7, 2013, 7:33am

>15 wonderlake:: We don't all hate it, though as I'd mentioned, I'm only a third of the way in, so it's possible I'll change my mind later.

>16 clfisha:: I like Zinzi too, and I also like the dark humour in the book.

18cammykitty
Feb 7, 2013, 4:04pm

@16 - the final, final ending - that I'm good with. Z did what she needed to do, but I don't want to say more so as not a spoiler.

& yes, I enjoyed Zinzi as a character, and the jaded way she relates to her world and situation which, yes, I would call dark humour. Perhaps the scene that I'm objecting too was a bit of dark humour too, but I can't really see it with that particular victim. (And I don't mean Song. I never felt very attached to or sorry for the twins. They were a little better than red shirts for me, ie appropriate canon fodder.)

19mamzel
Feb 9, 2013, 1:19pm

I finished Zoo City this morning and I can't say I'm sorry it came to an end. One of the problems I had with the book is the liberal use of foreign phrases which made me feel left out. The other problem was that I read it on my Kindle and the end came with 10% showing I had left. I realize this is a problem with me since I have my head set on the ending happening at the end of the book and I am left confused if it ends before I get to the end of the book.

I liked Zinzi and her sloth was really cool even though animals are viewed as a stigma in that culture. It was remarked, but not explained, that many of the animals that were attached to criminals were not native to Africa. No two people had the same animal so I guess they had more criminals than African species. Also not explained was whether this system was in effect in other parts of the world.

I guess I snoozed through the part that finally explained what crime she was guilty of. Maybe at the end of the month someone can explain it. And if the sloth was some form of parole system, it didn't keep her from supporting herself in a manner that was a hair below legal. I liked what she did at the end of the book about that, however.

20sandragon
Feb 9, 2013, 10:21pm

I'm 50 pages in and it's holding my interest so far. I've skimmed the above, averting my eyes at times so as to avoid spoilers. But I couldn't stay away from this thread any longer!

I can see the connection between Pullman's daemons and Beukes' animals, but a daemon seems like more a part of its person since a daemon's final shape depends on its human's personality and character. Animals here seem other and separate from its human, though I can see there's a connection somehow. Maybe this will become more clear as I read further?

19 - sometimes the use of foreign phrases bothers me (like extensive use of un-translated French in some books) but I find I don't mind the use of foreign phrases here. I find they add to the exotic (to me) sense of locale. I'm happy getting a sense of their meanings from the context, and the occasional word I've been more curious about has been easily googled.

I remember reading early on that the Chinese summarily executed all their animalled citizens so I'm guessing the magic animal system is world-wide.

21cammykitty
Edited: Feb 10, 2013, 11:34am

19 20 Yes, the animals manifested in other parts of the world. Sandragon is right. Beukes mentioned in passing that China executed people with animals right away since the animal was a sure sign of guilt. - I think there's also a story about the first animal appearance in India. Her animal system was heavily based on His Dark Materials so I think she glossed over explaining some if it, assuming her readers were familiar with The Golden Compass. She does mean that the animal comes from some spirit trait in the human, and that the human is very emotionally connected to the animal although some want to get rid of it simply because of the stigma. She does blend the Pullman mythos a little bit with variations on African spirit possession beliefs.

19 As for the language, it didn't bother me too much although like you said, it was clearly not edited for a US audience. There were obvious clues to that, such as "tyre" vs "tire." South Africa is a country where many many different languages are spoken. English, Afrikaans which is a dutch creole, and various tribal languages which are often truly separate languages, not dialects. They aren't intelligible to a speaker of another tribal language. At times South Africans don't understand each other. July's People by Nadine Gordimer does a beautiful job of making this clear. Somehow she has written her dialog so we know that there's a translation barrier there, but the reader understands both sides. July says one thing, the white people here something different, and vice versa. Beukes use of language certainly isn't as artful as Gordimer's, but it serves two purposes. 1. it shows a reality of South African culture. 2. It serves to culturally identify her characters. They surely aren't from old Boer stock.

SPOILERS: As for her crime, she never does come out and explain it. Mamzel, you didn't snooze through that part. The most we know is she was high. Her brother dragged her out of a bar/drug den and when they got home something happened. There's a pattern of stories in the book of people being forced to kill sibling/close friend by someone else, so we can sort of assume it was that kind of situation. IMHO, it's a flaw in the book that Zinzi never truly came clean about what happened between her and her brother. She hinted at it, but never looked at it head on in its entirety.

22mathgirl40
Feb 20, 2013, 10:21pm

I had to put Zoo City aside for a while, so that I could finish up a couple of book-club books before the upcoming meetings, but it's back in my hands now. I'm about two-thirds of the way through. I actually quite like Zinzi as a character, despite the deplorable things she's done. She's tough but vulnerable, and she has a great sense of humour.

23wonderlake
Feb 21, 2013, 3:08am

Started to read this today ...

24mathgirl40
Mar 3, 2013, 4:35pm

I finished Zoo City a little while ago but had a crazy week at work and am just getting back to updating my LT threads.

So, after finishing the entire novel, I am quite satisfied with it and am looking forward to Moxyland. I do agree with some of the criticisms mentioned in this thread, particularly the weaknesses with the plot and gaps in the backstory. However, I loved the world that Beukes had built, the characters and the humour enough that I found the novel a very enjoyable read overall. I felt there were a still a few nagging questions at the end, but for the most part, I am happy with the conclusion of the novel.

Is anyone else still reading Zoo City?

25sandragon
Edited: Mar 3, 2013, 7:12pm

I finished a few weeks ago and forgot to come back to this thread. I was really interested in the world created, especially since I love Pullman's His Dark Materials series so much, but I found the gaps in the backstory and the loose ends really bothered me. Disappointing enough that I'll probably not pick up Beukes other book. I won't go out of my way to look for it anyways.

26cammykitty
Mar 3, 2013, 7:53pm

Oh, sandragon, Moxyland is so much better than Zoo City. I hope you give her another try. But I understand, there are sooo many books out there. If I had read Zoo City first though, it probably would've been my last Beukes. The handling of the 6 meter white crocodile was too much for me.

27wonderlake
Mar 15, 2013, 7:33am

I too finished this a while ago. For me I didn't have a problem with the foreign phrases- they helped add to the colour of the book. My understanding of what happened with her brother was that...

she said for the drug dealers who she owed money to to car-jack her parent's car (their family was well-off so it was an expensive car); but her brother -who always had to play the "white knight" tried to stop them and ended up getting shot... ?

28cammykitty
Mar 17, 2013, 10:07pm

27 That makes sense wonderlake... but then she wasn't really guilty of murder.