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, an indigenous Filipino brought to America at the start of 20th century to be exhibited as part of a 'human zoo.' Ting quickly falls into upper class Manila life—and a flirtation with her ex-boyfriend Chet, a wealthy businessman with questionable ties to the regime.
...fascinating ... maybe it’s a political thriller. Or it could be a love story. It’s definitely a social critique targeting the grotesque inequalities of an authoritarian regime in the contemporary Philippines ... Until her final chapter, Murray cannily keeps you guessing where her narrative is going and what kind of story it is. Meanwhile, in just over 250 pages, she delivers a remarkably wide-ranging portrait of a society under such pressure that feels as if it could blow up at any minute ... Murray’s present-day Philippines, it should be noted, differs slightly from the country of the headlines. Rather than give real-life Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte a place in her tale, Murray has created a fictional President Procopio Gumboc — perhaps to avoid trouble for the book with the repressive Duterte regime ... Some names may have been altered, but Murray’s sense of place is vigorously vivid ... Let me just say that instabilities — of tone, of content, of sympathies, of perspective — can be cardinal assets in provocative fiction. In The Human Zoo Murray wields those instabilities with a keen, riveting instinct.
Sabina Murray’s novel The Human Zoo deftly interweaves a narrative of a woman’s search for identity, a historical, cultural, and political tale of Filipino society, and a tension-filled, action-packed story of life in contemporary Philippines under the regime of a dictator. The fusion of these three genres makes for an engaging, interesting, and informative novel ... The narration is clear and straightforward, and often funny ... The novel concludes with high drama involving murders, an escape, and political intrigue.
Smart, crisp prose distinguishes Murray’s action-packed latest (after Valiant Gentleman) ... By interrogating Ting’s privilege, Murray successfully and cleverly avoids writing a human zoo herself. This is captivating.