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This review is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

State of Exile marius kociejowski, God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners (Carcanet) £19.95

God’s Zoo is a substantial book of prose in which the Canadian-­born poet Marius Kociejowski gathers together stories told to him by a diverse group of artists, all of whom live in London but none of whom was born there. The theme is the state of exile, both literal and metaphorical. Illustrated by the same kind of small black and white photographs used by Sebald in The Emigrants, the atmosphere of the book is, however, very different to Sebald’s. This is partly due to its size, but mainly to Kociejowski’s decision to have each speaker tell their tale in their own time and voice, rather than though his. God’s Zoo contains powerful, highly personal descriptions of war and oppression; specific memories which are evocative, memorable and moving. It also provides a revealing view of England as outsiders see it: a place of safety and freedom, but also a place in which it’s hard to integrate: ‘I do not live among English people,’ says Iraqi poet and painter Fawzi Karim. ‘I do not have English friends.’

The book opens with an introduction, in which Kociejowski explains his provocative title. ‘God’s zoo’, he says, was a phrase he read and liked in Paul Tabori’s The Anatomy of Exile. Aware that some might find it offensive, but unable to find one that he liked better, he decided to go ahead and use it, with the support of those featured in the book. ‘Surely what it meant was that as creatures are to men, so are we to ...

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