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8

god’s zoo

I’d been, they said, wildly inappropriate in my choice of title. So I went back to being without one, desperate for a single hook from which to hang a multiplicity of stories. I came up with all kinds of verbal infelicities. Still, that old phrase kept humming in the ear. (It fed the eye too. I liked the zed. Polish is rich with them; English, by comparison, is impoverished.) Months later, I mentioned it to one of the subjects in the book and, while admitting it might draw fi re, she loved it as a title. Others liked it too, and then I realised just how lazy my earlier acceptance of other people’s interpretation of it had been. Surely what it meant was that as creatures are to men, so are we to God, and that in this respect it defi nes the human condition: we are all in God’s Zoo. Semantically the phrase doubles up to mean where we all live. Although the gates to the city may be open (even if a couple of people here would dispute this) we are confi ned to it through circumstances, whether they be family or social ties, profession or even the absence of one. Most of us are in there for the duration. We’d sooner choke on its fumes than sniff the roses elsewhere. We are even lured into the illusion that civilisation is here, barbarism outside. Our behaviour, in this packed environment, is not quite as it is in Nature. It is, arguably, both better and worse. Where, in Nature, will you fi nd long-stemmed glasses? Where, in this city, can one, with impunity, skin a rabbit? Th is may be the Devil justifying his position, but the phrase, when originally coined, did refer to this London of ours. As Tabori notes, and he is speaking of the diff erent forms of exile, the phrase also serves to describe our ‘infi nite variety’. What struck me when gathering these stories was how diff erent they all are. I had initially feared they would be straitjacketed by a common theme. Th e results demonstrated quite the opposite: containment, it seems, set those voices free. Already, though, I have begun to drift a little. Th ere’s somebody I’ve got to see, and, as luck would have it, he’s cooking for me. Th e dish he promises is one from his childhood in a faraway place. Will he be able to fi nd the spices by which means he’ll recreate all things gone? God’s Zoo. I, for one, will be there at swilling time.

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