Mauritius is a country unlike any other. Located 1,200 miles off the west coast of Africa, this small island nation in the Indian Ocean is a multilingual, multi-religious, multiethnic society with African, Indian, Chinese and European origins. Known primarily as an upscale tourist destination with five star hotels and beautiful beaches, there is another side to the island, a world of abject poverty and despair at the bottom of Signal Mountain: “Troumaron, a sort of funnel; where all the island’s wastewaters ultimately flow.”
In her spare and striking novel, “Eve Out of Her Ruins,” Mauritius author Ananda Devi tells the story of four young people struggling to find purpose in, and escape from, this supposed island paradise: Eve, with “her hair like a foamy night,” determined to make a better way for herself by trading her body for school supplies, food, freedom; her friend Savita, the only person she truly loves; Saadiq, a gifted poet who can’t escape the street gangs that plague the neighborhood; and Clelio, who turns the anger and sadness he feels over the loss of his brother loose on the world.
Told in short chapters that alternate in perspective, Devi takes care to first establish the complex scene that is life in Troumaron. “The country puts on its sky-blue dress, the better to seduce them... From here we can’t see the island all dolled up, and their eyes, dazzled by the sun, can’t see us. As things should be.”
When Savita sees something she shouldn’t, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of violent acts that result in one character being wrongly arrested, another being killed, and the final two teetering on the edge between freedom and captivity.
A remarkable book that is as much a call to action as it is a love story, Devi beautifully juxtaposes the beauty and despair of the island through her dreamy, ethereal prose, and the audacity of her characters’ ambition. “I’m no slave,” Clelio says,” but maybe everyone else around me is... They made their own chains, so they think they’re free.” There is another way, they each believe, a way out, a way forward. “I believe in possibilities,” Saadiq says. “Yes, even here. Even hurtling down our slopes,” a bold idea that keeps each character moving forward, toward violence, disappointment, and, perhaps, a new life.