Author: Charles Chanchori
Reviewer: Dennis Peters
Available at: Chanchori
Reading Charles Chanchori’s, Zoo was reliving a dreaded time in my life through almost similar experiences.
Zoo takes the setting of an ordinary Kenyan primary school with the story revolving around Safari, the main character and narrator. He goes through a rough time; from being bullied to corporal punishment by his teachers and his estranged relationship with his brother, Mensa.
The story evokes emotions on how the young Safari is affected by the circumstances and as the situation gets desperate, we are almost certain that he would give up. His resilience, however, outlives his tragedies and at some point we stop seeing him as a victim but rather a survivor. From a timid person and an hypocrite who processes most things in his mind, he would soon lose his cool. The highlight of this change in character happens when he physically attacks a pupil in his class.
“I use all my strength to drive the ball pen into his arm. Truth be told, I am aiming for his throat but I miss. I pull the pen out as he is screaming, not believing that I made him bleed. I don’t stop there. I claw at him and stab him continuously with the pen, screaming and screaming and losing sight of all reason.”
Through this dark place, the writer often refers to as the zoo, we find beauty in characters such as Eve, who is Safari’s muse – a beautiful girl with dark hair tied at the back. Perhaps we find love, although the author does not call it love because I suppose, at eight to twelve years, love is as foreign as anything could be.
With each escapade, Chanchori’s story makes me hate my time in primary school more and more yet at the same time nostalgically miss it.
The story travels with Safari from Standard Five all the way to Standard Eight. He falls in ‘love’, gets scared of dogs, gets punched a lot by his brother and other bullies, receives canes on his behind many times, watches his crush pee under a tree, watches police brutality from the fence, beats up a bully once and write a lot of amazing literature.
Somehow, I wish that Safari, after we had seen him grow up all the way, demonstrated a little of his reactions and feelings to his younger schoolmates especially after he is a senior. I would have loved to know whether his journey had made him compassionate about the weak ones or he was just a survivor for his own sake.
It would be an important mention to point out the perception of women/girls from the story. When Babyface kisses and touches Sheila’s breasts, he is applauded while Sheila is shamed for the same deed. It highlights the African discrimination against women buried deep in our society beginning as early as the young age of the characters.
Zoo is a compelling, humorous and creative work of literature with a lot of moving scenes and objects that would make it a perfect subject for a screenplay. An exciting read that you simply cannot put down once you are on to the first page. I will probably stay awake in the middle of night, feet cold and wonder what happens next to Safari. Is he going to be okay? Yeah? Anyone? Chanchori, how is Safari now?
© Dennis Peters
Dennis Peters blogs at: Dennis Peters. You’ll want to check him out 🙂