The final days of Joseph Stalin’s reign are treacherous if you cannot lie to keep the right people happy or if you take for granted the veracity of everything you hear. Yuri Zipit, the twelve-year-old protagonist and narrator of Christopher Wilson’s humorous novel The Zoo, meets both these conditions. At the age of six, an accident involving a milk truck damaged his frontal lobe and deprived him of tact and inhibition. Thus Yuri says and does anything that springs to mind. Only with great effort can he heed his father’s advice, reiterated in the pun in his surname, and ‘stop gibbering like a demented gibbon’.
Yuri’s father knows much about gibbons as he is a professor of veterinary science working in the Kapital Zoo. One night, the secret police summon him to visit a dying Stalin, not long after the general secretary has branded all physicians ‘Zionist Nationalists’. He and Yuri arrive to