The Human Zoo

Grove. Aug. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780802157508. $27. F
Filipina American journalist Christina (“Ting”) has returned to Manila after separating from her American husband. As readers learn about Ting, they also learn about Filipino culture and the history of the Philippines, particularly regarding American imperialism. Ting is working on a book about the exploitation of indigenous Filipino people as part of the phenomenon of human zoos, specifically one at Coney Island in 1911. Unfortunately, she has not produced the book, as she is distracted by myriad concerns in her homeland. These include the dictatorship, courtship by a former boyfriend who is connected to the dictator, and numerous social occasions that include hanging out with Inchoy, a closeted gay man, and his trans lover Bibi. When one of Ting’s relatives is kidnapped by Islamist terrorists and another becomes the victim of an extrajudicial killing, Ting is thrust into real danger and narrowly escapes.
VERDICT As Ting’s unwritten book morphs into the very one we are reading, the author (Murray, a PEN/Faulkner Award winner for The Caprices) expands the original critique of the human zoo to include multiple zoos and multiple victimized humans, thus examining broad issues of culture, race, gender, sexuality, and politics against a global backdrop. Highly recommended.
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