📖 🇲🇺 #41: A heartbreaking Mauritian novel

Ananda Devi on being a teenager in Port-Louis

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Ananda Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins tells a powerful and tragic story of four young Mauritians as they navigate the hopelessness and violence of life in Troumaron, an impoverished suburb of Port-Louis, whilst also exploring their self-identities and sexualities.

The book’s short chapters are narrated by its four teenage narrators, whose voices differ wildly from one another. First we meet Eve, a lonely seventeen-year-old girl with a tendency to dissociate as she “trades” her body with men in order to pay for her education. Next we meet Saadiq, a Rimbaud fanboy and reluctant gang member who believes he is in love with Eve. Then there Savita, Eve’s best friend who eventually becomes her lover, much to the annoyance of Saadiq. And finally there’s Clélio, a tougher member of the same gang as Saadiq, who is waiting in vain for his brother to come back from France to collect him.

In the book’s first half, its narrators roam the streets of Port Louis, sometimes attending school, occasionally frequenting the local nightclub, but often just biding time, yearning for a life outside of Troumaron. Nowhere is safe for the island’s young women—not even school—and when Eve’s biology teacher announces that he’ll be tutoring her, Eve knows immediately what is expected of her.

His pursuit was ridiculous. It was clear he wasn’t used to it. It took him weeks to summon up the courage to tell me to stay after class. He’s surprised I say yes so quickly, so coldly. How could it be this easy? He wonders if I really know what his intentions are…

I love you, I love you, he says, blind with desire. It’s so awkward I’m almost insulted. Does he really think I’ll believe him? His tongue is in my ear. The words bunch up around the thick mass. That moisture, his hot breath, his fumbling, it all disgusts me.

The book’s second half picks up in the aftermath of a tragedy, following its narrators as they navigate its consequences on their lives. Though the plot picks up after the halfway mark, Devi still delves deep into her characters’ interiorities and her sentences continue to be poetic and dreamlike. The cadence of Devi’s prose chops and changes from one chapter to the next and I appreciated translator Jeffrey Zuckerman’s decision to preserve words and phrases in French and Mauritian Creole. In his afterword, Zuckerman explains that this was a conscious decision and an attempt to convey the “mélange of languages, cultures, and histories” present in Mauritius—a country which has been colonised by the Dutch, French, and British.

Eve out of Her Ruins is such an enriching read and Devi does a fantastic job of painting a picture of a place Saadiq describes as “a sort of funnel; where all the island’s wastewaters ultimately flow”. Though Devi’s characters experience moments of happiness, these are fleeting and the reality of life in Troumaron is harsh, heavy, misogynistic, and extremely violent. Devi’s incisive prose perfectly captures what it is to be a teenager who is discarded by society—this book truly broke my heart.

Eve out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Les Fugitives, 2016 / Éditions Gallimard, 2006)

More books by Mauritian authors

Here’s a short list of everything else I was recommended this week:

  • Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah, tr. Geoffrey Strachan

  • Watch Them Go Down by Anand Mulloo

  • Silence of the Chagos by Shenaz Patel, tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman

  • Bénarès by Barlen Pyamootoo, tr. Will Hobson

  • Made in Mauritius by Amal Sewtohul

What have you read recently?

If you’ve read a brilliant book in translation or you’d like to pass on a recommendation, I’d love to hear about it! For this project, I’m focussing on contemporary fiction and short stories, with a preference for female authors—but I’m always happy to venture further afield for a good recommendation.

You can get in touch by replying to this email or leaving a comment. I’ll be featuring your recommendations in upcoming newsletters, and I’ll keep a growing list here.

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Bookmarked is written by Tabatha Leggett. If you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them!