Mauritian Author Ananda Devi Examines the Hidden Violent Reality of Life on a Tropical Island
This article is part of a series of profiles of ten Francophone authors who have been long-listed for the Albertine Prize, a reader’s choice award launched this year by the Albertine bookshop in New York. Albertine booksellers selected ten of the best French novels translated into English in the past year; US-based readers can vote between March 16 and April 30th on the Albertine site here.
The beautiful island of Mauritius represents a paradise to many tourists. But it also has a dark, violent underside, and the award-winning author Ananda Devi, who grew up on the small island in the Indian Ocean, focuses on this seamy underbelly in her 2006 novel Ève de ses décombres. Ten years later it was published in English as Eve out of her Ruins, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman and with a foreword by J.M.G. Le Clézio, no less.
The novel was also adapted to film in 2012 (and renamed Les Enfants de Troumaron) by the directors Harrikrisna Anenden and Sharvan Anenden; the author wrote the screenplay.
Ananda Devi is an accomplished author and poet, who has published short-story collections and poetry, as well as 12 novels. She chose French as her language of creative expression, but like many Mauritians she speaks English and Creole as well.
Ananda Devi shines her gentle and poetic light on the harsh reality of four young Mauritians growing up in Troumaron, a suburb of Mauritius’ capital, Port Louis. Port Louis was an important stop for trade ships in the 17th and 18th century and the country's ethnic mix is testament to the important role it played in trade routes, prior to the opening of the Suez Canal. Devi’s characters, Sad (whose real name is Saadiq), Eve, Clélio, and Savita are symbolic of this ethnic melting pot created by centuries of slavery, trade, and colonialists. The friends, all in their late teens, live on the fringes of society, struggling with dreams they suspect will never be fulfilled, yearning to leave the island, even though they have never been to the wealthy capital city nearby where the tourists arrive. The narrative appears to focus on Eve, who prostitutes herself in order to feel she is in control and powerful, but her friends—Savita, who loves Eve unconditionally, Saadiq, a gifted poet who is in love with her, and Clélio, a rebel hoping to emigrate to France, surround Eve and cannot be disassociated from her gravitational force. At the heart of the story is the malaise of this polarized society in Mauritius that Devi often examines in her writing—the island remains ever-present in her work, even if she now lives in France. In a recent interview with her translator, Jeffrey Zuckerman, she said: "...the people and the places of Mauritius became the two mainstays of all my work.
The places that drew me most strongly were those that were beautiful but dangerous — not the usual vistas of the tropical island but everything that was hidden and secret, that held the whiff of death and the promise of rebirth."
At the same time, what makes Eve’s story so powerful is also its accessibility: Devi’s account is universal—what it describes could also be applied to disenfranchised youth in urban areas in Rio, Mumbai, or Paris.