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Pepsi and Maria

Adam Zameenzad is rapidly gaining a reputation for highly imaginative and boundary-crossing fiction. His sixth novel is set in an unnamed South American city, a place of sadism and corruption, unimaginable desperation and routine brutality. This is a place where the police gather for a convivial drink before setting out to murder street children, and teenage mothers pacify their hungry infants by giving them glue to sniff. The reader is catapulted directly into the heart of this nightmarish world as two street kids, Pepsi and Maria narrowly escape an attack by Caddy, a psychotic police officer whose obsessive mission is to hunt them down and kill them.

It gradually emerges, as the story is told in the perpetual present of life on the street, that Pepsi is the illegitimate, disowned son of an important politician and that Caddy’s ‘street cleaning’ crusade goes beyond personal zeal and involves the presidential ambitions of his political master. The resourceful Pepsi has a mission of his own, which is to return the kidnapped Maria to her home in the rubbish-tip slum ironically called ‘Heaven’. The children call on the aid of the community of the dispossessed and a face-off ensues between those who have nothing left to lose and those who view everything, including children, as commercial commodities.

Pepsi and Maria is a beautifully crafted, multi-faceted book; at once a highly dramatic and gripping thriller, a vivid re-imagining of the clichéd Magical Realism genre and a searing indictment of the ways in which self-righteous moral certainty lead to a ratcheting-up of cruelty and inhumanity.

Peter Whittaker

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