Length: 104 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Abasi lives one day at a time – scouring for food in the Takataka Dumps that he calls home, keeping himself away from the areas of the Dumps that are mainly inhabited, and keeping at bay the constant fear that his truth will one day be revealed. Nobody knows him by face or name; and the only name he’s ever been given is Zeru. Zeru, or albinos, are rumored to be magic in Tanzania, their body cut up and sold to the men who have money and need luck. All Abasi wants is to be left alone, to live without fear, to forget the horrors that led to his leaving behind a warm home and family and making the Dumps his new home, and most of all, to be the twelve year old boy that he is. When a witch doctor makes his way to the Dumps, Abasi’s secret is revealed, and he’s forced once again to run for his life. But can a boy as young as him escape the clutches of the witch doctor – a man who is driven by greed, sadism, and the unbending belief in darker forces? Or will Abasi finally meet the end that is almost destiny for every Zeru?
Phillip Vargas may not be the world’s best wordsmith, but he knows how to tell a story in his own, unique style that is engaging to say the least.
Zeru is a fast paced, never slowing down read that keeps you at the edge of you seat at all times. This isn’t so much because you want to know what happens next; but more because you want to know what happens next to Abasi. Vargas created a character so real that association with Abasi becomes a matter of when and not if. While the book starts off at a slow-ish pace, it picks up within a few pages and then doesn’t let up. That only adds to the fact that it is a short book anyway, allowing you to complete it in a matter of hours.
There are two things that make Zeru really good. The first is the relation with reality. As the author’s note at the end of the story says, the basis of the story is very real, where albinos in East Africa are almost hunted. They are perceived not as individuals but as a means to luck and money for others and only death for the Zeru themselves. Vargas’ writing does not lose touch with that reality. Even before you reach the author’s note, you are ready to believe everything that is happening, somewhere aware that this is a very real story that can happen or that may even be happening as you read.
The second is Abasi himself. Vargas created a character who was so human, so real, that you can’t help but associate with him. This story isn’t about one young boy’s heroic deeds. This story is about the real emotions of twelve year old who’s all alone and plagued by fear. It isn’t about a boy who comes through like a hero in impossible situations; it’s about a buy who deals with what he has to in a way that any normal twelve year old would. He has weaknesses, he has strengths, and he reacts to them in a real, human manner which makes you feel for him more and share in all that he feels.
There are other things that work to make this story a really good read such as Vargas’ descriptive narration which paint entire pictures, action and violence that can be a little difficult to digest for some but add to the intensity of the story, characters other than Abasi that are painted in a very real light, and the many twists and turns that are unexpected but do not disappoint.
Its short length and quick moving story make Zeru a great read for when you are travelling, spending a weeknight in, or simply want to read something interesting. It has violent aspects that can be a little gruesome for some readers, but, in my opinion, adds to the sense of reality and urgency. While, at first glance, it may seem like Zeru was written for a young adult audience, that is definitely not the case. Zeru caters to a mature audience and can be appreciated for its touch with reality, great character development, catchy story line, and a writing style that suits the genre. I would definitely read more from the author and more on Abasi. I would recommend Zeru to readers who are more focused on a good story rather than a particular genre. All in all, a really good read!