cover image The Human Zoo

The Human Zoo

Sabina Murray. Grove, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5750-8

Smart, crisp prose distinguishes Murray’s action-packed latest (after Valiant Gentleman). The beautiful Christina Klein, or “Ting” as she’s known to her Filipino family, is newly separated from her American husband when she shows up on the doorstep of her wealthy 90-year-old aunt in Manila, uninvited and with no plan for the future. A journalist who reported on the corruption and violence of the Philippines’s populist regime, Ting soon catches up with old friends and an old flame, Chet, whose murky business dealings may be connected to the regime. Meanwhile, her research for a book on “human zoos” in turn-of-the-century New York City digs up a devious entrepreneur who tricked native Philippine Bontoc tribesmen into participating, prompting her to reflect on the historical relationship between the U.S. and poor, indigenous Filipinos: “It was as if the United States still needed the Philippines to be recognizable but savage in the same way that Heart of Darkness needed Africa to make Europe seem enlightened.” When someone close to her dies violently, Ting finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery, unsure whether Chet is friend or foe. By interrogating Ting’s privilege, Murray successfully and cleverly avoids writing a human zoo herself. This is captivating. Agent: Jessica Friedman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)