‘People can be rich even in having nothing’.
Set in the heart of Mauritian ‘paradise’, Ananda Devi’s beautifully written but stark tale of abject poverty and violence strikes to the core of what it means to grow up on the edges of society. In a place where foreign tourism is of more value and meaning than the lives of its residents, Eve, Saad, Clélio and Savita are forced to fight for survival in the dangerous, criminal underbelly of Troumaron, a forgotten slum in the capital city of Port Louis.
The chapters in Eve out of Her Ruins are narrated by these four teenagers, whose lives devastatingly intertwine, and Devi poetically captures their strikingly distinct voices. Although their upbringings centre around the same themes – that of dire poverty, weak-willed, often violent, parents and adults who offer no hope for a brighter future and the effects of being left behind by an economically-progressive society – they each have different ways of coping in a world that is indifferent to their existence.
The story begins and ends with Eve – a young, teenaged girl – who fully recognises and embodies the power her body can have over people and men in particular. At the same time she also perfects the art of distancing herself from the atrocities which take place within and against her. Eve poignantly describes herself as: ‘Only a reflection of a woman. Only an echo of a woman. Only the deformed idea of a woman’. By disassociating body from mind, Eve finds some degree of autonomy. Whether she succeeds in using this fragile autonomy to rise above her dire situation is another matter entirely. Under the sweltering and pulsating heat of the tropics, Eve willingly uses her body as currency to reach that slight glimmer of hope for a better life – a better future.
‘I am in permanent negotiation. My body is a stopover. Entire sections have been explored. Over time, they blossom with burns and cracks. Everyone leaves some trace, marks his territory.
I am seventeen years old and I don’t give a fuck. I’m buying my future’.
Saad, who is unwillingly a part of the criminal gang that pervades every area of Troumaron life, is also a secret, budding poet. He takes to the French writer – Rimbaud – to find inspiration, writing poetry on his bleak bedroom walls as a way to simultaneously escape the mundanity of life and to give it meaning. He watches Eve from a distance and hopelessly, almost naively, imagines a time when he can save her from ruins that are threatening to fall all around her.
‘I read in secret, all the time. I read in the toilets, I read in the middle of the night, I read as if books could loosen the noose tightening around my throat. I read to understand that there is somewhere else. A dimension where possibilities shimmer’.
Clélio is maybe less fully formed than Eve and Saad. Also a gang member he has just been released from prison and holds onto an incredible amount of hatred and anger. Due to the bitter disappointment he feels towards his brother, who abandoned him for a better life in France, Clélio is deeply involved in the criminal underworld of Troumaron. So much so that he becomes an easy scapegoat for the police when disaster strikes.
Through Savita’s eyes we are able to witness Eve’s vulnerability. At times it can be difficult to remember that she is only seventeen years old. She comes across so strong-willed and resilient. Yet, Savita – the only person in Eve’s life who doesn’t take and take from her – recognises that she is in dire need of support. Their relationship is one of dependability and survival. Without each other they would be perpetually lost amongst the decrepit, garbage-strewn backdrop of Troumaron.
‘Sometimes your voice breaks; sometimes my heart breaks, just seeing you. Neither of us is innocent, and I hate the world for it.
I’d give my life for you’.
It is this predicament that Ananda Devi skilfully and beautifully hinges her novel on. As Eve comes to terms with a devastating loss, she knows that the only way to seek justice is to take matters into her own hands.
The second publication from the wonderfully niche independent press, Les Fugitives – which aims to publish short novels from award-winning Francophone female authors who haven’t previously been published in English – is a stunning masterpiece of literature. Experimentally written in a way that every line reads like poetry, Ananda Devi explores the identities of people who are marginalised and forgotten after a post-colonial country begins to rapidly develop into a capitalist, economic society. Raw and unforgiving, Eve out of Her Ruins is difficult to put down and impossible to forget.
This beautiful UK edition is translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman who deserves praise for bringing Devi’s 2006 novel to an English-speaking audience. It’s often easy to forget the work translators do, particularly when the writing reads so naturally and flawlessly.