Human Zoo by Sabina Murray - forthcoming August 2021 from Grove Atlantic Press
This is a marvelous depiction of the Phillipines, quite possibly the best fictional evocation of The Modern Natiinal Capital region yet done. Set in a period very much like today, minus The Pandemic.
The country is governed by an elected president obsessed with eliminating all drug use and traffic in The country. Thousands of suspects are shot by The National Police. Income disparity is way beyond that in America. People are very Family oriented, large networks of connections are needed to get anything done. Everything depends on a psrsonal connection. Divorce is not part of the legal system.
Filipino-American Christina “Ting” Klein has just travelled from New York to Manila, both to escape her imminent divorce, and to begin research for a biography of Timicheg. Timicheg as an indeginous Phillipino brought to USA early in the 20th century to be part of a “Human Zoo”. We learn a good bit about his history.
It has been a year since she has been in the Phillippines, a new president has been elected. She shows up unexpected at a rich older tita’s (aunt) house. The tita lives in a huge walled in house with shredded glass embedded into the top of the wall, very common in the Philippines.
She is soon included in upper class family and social gatherings. She spends time with her best friend, a gay socialist philosophy professor, reconnects with an old boyfriend Chet a wealthy businessman with some dubious connections to the current regime. A cousin’s fiancé Laird has returned trying to rediscover his roots. Somehow Ting becomes responsible for him. Everybody wants to know why she is getting divorced. Slowly she becomes drawn into dangerous relationships.
Murray does a great job making Manila, and also Baguio, come to life.
Jollibes are everywhere. The traffic is horrendous. The heat is near steam bath level. The rich, even the middle class have full time helpers. The food references are all perfect. She has lots of small details like the McDonald’s near the Baguio bus station right. A gay relationship is beautifully developed.
I would have liked to know more about the male characters.
I highly recommend this book to anyone enjoying an exciting fast moving story.
Sabina Murray grew up in Australia and the Philippines and is currently a member of the MFA faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Tales of the New World, A Carnivore’s Inquiry, Forgery, Valiant Gentlemen, and The Caprices, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction..from the publisher