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Caryl Férey goes Zulu

I just finished a book called Zulu by French author Caryl Férey (due to be published by  Europa Editions in May) and now, with apologies to South African readers, I am never going to go to South Africa. Zulu won France’s Grand Prix for Best Crime Novel in 2008 with good reason – it’s a flat-out brilliant crime novel, but ultimately it rings truer as an exposé of the current socio-political climate in South Africa – and, sorry, but it is not fucking pretty.

Ethnic Zulu, Ali Neuman is the quintessential product of apartheid violence – driven from his home after the brutal murders of his father & brother, he has spent his adult life hiding his deep emotional scars working as a detective in Cape Town. Cape Town’s streets are rife with gang violence and rampant drug use – a product of the vacuum left in apartheid’s wake that opened the floodgates for southern Africa’s poor, criminally-minded souls to enter the newly “free” society. When a white girl’s body turns up (with her face and skull smashed to pieces with a hammer) Ali and his two white partners – fresh-faced, innocent Dan & the gritty, angry Brian – begin to investigate, rather routinely at first, digging into the fringes of a post-Boer society that still harbors resentment over their loss of power. But there’s something else simmering beneath the surface of their investigation – in the form of a horrible new meth-based drug being introduced into Cape Town that seems to whip it’s users into a violent, murderous frenzy. The questions pile up almost a quickly as the false leads do. Who is producing this drug? Who is selling it? How is this related to the white corpses that keep turning up? Were they killed “by accident” or is there a much more sinister plot afoot?

Once the team is down the rabbit hole though, all bets are off as far as standard crime novel fare is concerned – don’t let your hands get cut off by that machete, friend. I think what disturbed me so much was that the violence never felt gratuitous in any way – it just felt real, which is a lot scarier. You learn about halfway through that this is one of those books where no character is safe – just like it would be if this were a true story. Once the gang that Ali & Co. are chasing realizes that cops are, in fact, touchable, the whole game is turned on it’s head and you really never know what will be lurking in the next set of shadows.

It is by no means a perfect book – the characters are a bit wooden and some of the clunky prose can be chalked up to the translation, but not all of it – but Férey delivers a terrifying look into a society that has struggled so hard to mask the dark underside of its history, only to leave it all simmering just below the surface. Anybody have any World Cup tickets they want to unload now?


6 comments on “Caryl Férey goes Zulu

  1. Naomi Johnson
    February 18, 2010

    I've just finished reading Roger Smith's second crime novel, 'Wake Up Dead,' and I had the same reaction: I won't be traveling to South Africa anytime soon. Looks like these two guys could totally ruin the tourist industry for S.A.

  2. Anonymous
    May 20, 2010

    how can you let one book put you off a whole country? i live in cape town and it is a beautiful place with far more good then bad. you have a very narrow perspective of the country,

  3. Seth Marko
    May 20, 2010

    Oh, c'mon, Anonymous, lighten up – it's just a book review. And a positive one, at that. Maybe you should talk to the author about it.

    Is Ferey incorrect, though? Is Cape Town not as split – racially, socially, & economically – as he depicts? He's pretty damning. Maybe you should check out Zulu for yourself & get back to me.

  4. Hal Womack
    July 2, 2010


    By Hal Womack 3-dan

    A few moments ago I also finished Caryl Ferey's ZULU and found Seth
    Marko's reaction quite recognizable. Will someone ping John Le Carre
    for his reaction to CF's pick-up on the Big Pharma in Africa theme
    from THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2001)?

    To get objective for a moment: Let us veterans of CF's ZULU compare
    body counts as between South Africa and the killing zones of the US
    empire: SA's murder rate about 6 X that of US domestic but far less
    than that suffered currently by the Occupied Countries of Iraq and
    Afghanistan or within the last half century by other US targets such
    as Indochina, Indonesia, and Central America. So one wonders what a
    writer of CF's talent would do with the meat-richer raw material of
    the Big Kill Zones. Except, of course, 'tis far easier for a writer to
    get published knocking Afrikaners and a vague Big Pharma than would be
    the case were he exposing the Jews behind the Yankee world slaughter
    policy. “I came, I saw, I Ran, I Rocked.” Case in point = author David
    Rollins of Australia, whom Bantam Books (a subsidiary of a German
    mega-publisher closely linked to Israel) dropped like the fabled Pot
    Hotato after
    the Cultural Commissars finally read the last chapter of his excellent
    thriller HARD RAIN (2010 in USA).

    ZULU definitely worth one's time IMHO. Where would we find competent
    and reliable South African voices to evaluate it, provide perspective,
    recommend other like fiction?

    WIKI: “About a quarter of the population is unemployed and lives on
    less than US $1.25 a day.”
    Newsgroups: rec.arts.books, soc.culture.south-africa, soc.culture.brazil, soc.culture.usa, soc.culture.african.american
    Date: Thu, 1 Jul 2010 23:12:15 -0700 (PDT)
    Subject: ZULU (2008) by Caryl Ferey: Comments

  5. Anonymous
    May 28, 2013

    it all depends who you are friends with I have friends from all walks of life so I feel safe, but then again don't take dumb risks, we call it looking for trouble, certain things u don't do like leaving valuables in your car, you have to lock them in your boot. Women cant really go out alone for a walk .Ok so you have to know how to take care of yourself, you don't flash your bling around.You have to live a careful considered life.You have to be sensitive to energies and vibes, not every person who looks like a gangster is one, not every dark skinned person is a murderer, there are more positive things about south Africa than crime.Faith is strong here also spiritual life is strong.

  6. توصيات العملات
    December 9, 2015

    I enjoy what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work
    and coverage! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve included you guys to my blogroll.

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2010 by in Caryl Férey, review.
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