Zoo City Summary

Lauren Beukes

Zoo City

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Zoo City Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.

Published in 2010, Zoo City is an urban fantasy novel by Lauren Beukes. Set in an alternate reality Johannesburg, South Africa, the story follows Zinzi December, a recovering drug addict, who tries to locate a missing pop star and uncovers a series of murders. Beukes is an award-winning author of novels, screenplays, and comics. She also works as a freelance journalist and has been published in Marie Claire, The Sunday Times Lifestyle, and Colors, among others. Zoo City was named the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2011.

Zinzi December carries a sloth on her back. Her security guard boyfriend, Benoit, has a mongoose. But then again, most everyone in the Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow has been sentenced with an animal familiar of their own. That’s why the area has been nicknamed Zoo City. “Animalling,” in which convicted criminals are bonded to an animal familiar, is a common punishment in the post-plague world. If the person fails to care for their familiar or becomes separated from it, they will physically suffer. Worse yet, if the familiar dies, the person will be dragged into the abyss by the undertow.

Zinzi earned her sloth when she was found culpable in her brother’s death. In exchange for caring for the familiar, each person receives a talent or ability; Zinzi’s talent is finding lost things. Her day job is writing 419 scam emails, and she earns just enough to barely get by. But Zinzi is also a recovering drug addict who owes money to her dealer. That is why she sometimes uses her talent for contract work: finding lost items for clients in exchange for a fee.

When her client for one such job is found murdered, it leaves Zinzi in a bind. She loses the fee money she would have earned, and the police have named her as their primary suspect. As she stands watching the crime scene, two strangers approach her. They introduce themselves as Marabou and Maltese (so named for their familiars) and explain that they wish to hire Zinzi to find a missing person. Zinzi refuses on the grounds that missing person cases are too complicated and emotionally wrought to get involved with.

Meanwhile, Benoit has long believed that his wife and daughter were killed back in his war-torn homeland, but now he discovers that they may still be alive. He vows to find them. Zinzi is not happy with the revelation and its potential consequences, but she nevertheless continues to see him. However, when her money runs out, she contacts Marabou and Maltese and tells them she has reconsidered taking the job.

Marabou and Maltese take her to meet a famous music producer by the name of Odi Huron. Odi’s most famous act is a pop music duo composed of twin siblings: brother S’bu and sister Songweza (called Song). After their parents died, the twins achieved fame by winning a talent contest. Song has been missing for several days, and it is unknown if she was abducted or simply ran away. But with their album launching in three weeks, Odi cannot afford the scandal it would cause to call the police.

Zinzi first talks to S’bu, who says he does not know where his sister is. Zinzi also questions the twins’ friends, and they reveal that Song has a secret boyfriend and also spent some time in rehab. Visiting the rehab center, she gains several clues about the identity of the boyfriend. But while pursuing a lead, she is attacked by a gang of criminals who nearly succeed in taking her sloth. They want to use it to conduct a magic ritual called “muti,” but Zanzi is able to escape with her familiar.

One of the clues about the identity of Song’s boyfriend leads her to a bouncer named Ronaldo. She visits his apartment and finds Song hiding out. Song says she left voluntarily because someone is trying to kill her. Suddenly Marabou and Maltese arrive and take Song away, explaining that she has gone off her medication and is delusional.

The situation does not sit well with Zinzi. Later, she visits Song, but the girl is heavily medicated and cannot tell her anything. Zinzi continues to investigate and finds that many people close to Song have mysteriously vanished, most recently Ronaldo. Looking even further, she begins to notice that many unsolved murders have similarities to this case. All the victims had familiars, yet none of the familiars were ever found. She suspects the murders are not truly for the human victims, but rather to steal the familiars for muti.

When she finds a strange knife in her house one night and hears police sirens approaching, Zinzi realizes she is being set up for the unsolved murders. She goes to Benoit for help, and he aids her in sneaking into Odi’s house. There they find an albino crocodile in a swimming pool and learn that Odi was animalled for murdering someone years ago.

The crocodile grabs Benoit and swims through a tunnel to a secret grotto.  Zinzi follows and is able to save him, but then they stumble upon a muti ritual using the unique mystical power of twins: S’bu and Song are drugged and surrounded by the missing familiars. Odi and Marabou kill the familiars and then tell the twins to fight each other. Mindlessly, they obey, and S’bu kills Song. Then Odi transfers the binding spell of the crocodile to S’bu, freeing himself of the burden. Odi then orders Marabou to kill the crocodile.

Zinzi speaks to the crocodile, telling it that they are going to kill him. Somehow understanding, the crocodile then turns on Odi, killing him. Maltese and Marabou flee when they hear police sirens, followed by Zinzi. As the novel ends, Zinzi is on the run from the police, but she is using her gift to search for Benoit’s family.