Eve Out Of Her Ruins

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Ananda Devi’s new novel takes you behind the facade of the island of Mauritius, a popular tourist destination off the coast of Africa thanks to its golden beaches, luxurious shops, hotels and villas. Devi, who was born on the island and grew up in a family of Indian heritage, writes about the “real” Mauritius, a Third World hellhole in which crime, violence and poverty blight the lives of the “population generale.”

Eve is one of those poor folk, a 17-year-old girl from the town of Troumaron, “a marsh at the base of the mountains. Several buildings are starting to tilt. Soon, we’ll have our own Leaning Tower of Pisa,” she observes. Eve is smart, tough and defiant, a remarkable young woman who, as Nobel Prize-winner J.M.G. Le Clezio says in a foreword, “does not accept, does not submit and defies her father and the world, who laughs while toying with men’s desires.”

Eve fights mightily to escape her garbage-filled, gang-controlled shantytown, going so far as to sleep with one of her teachers, in return for some tutoring. It’s a cold, calculating move on her part; neither she nor her best friend (and lover) Savita have much use for men. “The day I say I love you to a man, I’ll kill myself,” Savita confides.

The two males in the novel are the slum kids, Saadiq and Clelio. The former reads Rimbaud but must hide the fact from his ganja-smoking, rough-house peers lest they brand him a sissy. Clelio is one of the roughs: “I’m at war,” is how he describes himself. “Fighting everybody and nobody. I can’t get away from my rage. Someday, I know it, I’ll kill someone.”

There is an explanation for his pent-up resentment. His hero, his older brother Carlo, went to France ten years ago, promising to return when he had money and take him back to Europe with him. But he never did show up. “He hasn’t done well,” Clelio realizes. “I know he’s dead.”

There is no escaping Troumaron for most of its inhabitants, no transcending its stifling, violence-filled environment. Yet Eve persists in her quest, braving brutality, rape, treachery and murder to try and construct a new life, a new personhood, for herself. Her journey, harrowing and doomed as it may be, is described with unforgettable poetry and power.

When I finished EVE OUT OF HER RUINS, I could not help but think of Pascal’s remark: “I praise and prize only that writer who tells the truth about men–with tears in his eyes.”

(Deep Vellum Publishing, $14.95 ppbk. Skillfully translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman)