Ananda Devi, Eve Out of Her Ruins, Trans. by Jeffrey Zuckermann, Deep Vellum, 2016.
A harrowing account of the hidden violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.
With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.
Eve Out of Her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.
The book features an original introduction by Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio, who declares Devi “a truly great writer.”
“Set in a poor section of Port-Louis, Mauritius, this prize-winning novel is a poetic and intense exploration of young lives thrown away by society. Told in four different voices and haunted by the specter of Rimbaud, Devi explores, the violence, identity, and dreams of young people living discarded lives. For fans of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Jean Genet.” — Josh Cook
“The emblematic figurehead of Mauritian literature.” — Le Monde
“Turning her back on the illusion of eternal youth, Devi focuses unflinchingly on that tipping point in life that only women can understand, since where sex is concerned men and women must forever remain “mutually unintelligible.” Yes, here is a truly great writer, since when we finish Devi’s book we are unlikely to know what has motivated her to write such a story, such a cry of protest. But its music, its powerful grip on the reader…give us a glimpse inside the cave where once a love-struck monk, under the spell of the dark angel of the imagination, succeeded in creating the miracle all artists dream of, reshaping reality according to his desires.” — J.M.G. Le Clézio
“Devi writes about terrible and bitter events with a soft, delicate voice.” — Le Figaro
“One of the major literary voices of the Indian Ocean.” — PEN American Centre
“The work of Ananda Devi is both tragic and poetic. Haunted by the issues of exclusion, of otherness, deviance and suffering, it denounces the stifling climate of a society…it stands against any form of rejection and offers a genuine commitment…for the recognition of otherness.” — Véronique Bragard
Eve walks by, her hair like foamy night, in her skin-tight jeans, and the others snigger and suck in their teeth in lust, but I – I just want to kneel down. She doesn’t look at us. She isn’t afraid of us. She has her solitude for armor.Saad is one of the four teen-aged narrators who take turns telling us about their lives and interconnected friendships in the poor, gang-ridden Troumaron neighborhood of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. In Troumaron, “one day we wake up and the future has disappeared.” Saad, who worships Eve, has also fallen under the spell of Rimbaud and writes poetry on the walls of his room at home. Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins is a novel of conversations, emotions, aspirations, and setbacks. Forget where it takes place or the nationality of the author. This is a novel of haunting language with a powerful message about gender and violence.
Eve is the remarkable character at the center of Eve Out of Her Ruins. She is constructed from the different perspectives of Devi’s four narrators – the poet Saad, Clélio, who has already been to prison for his misdeeds, Savika, a young woman who is determined to give Eve her unquestioning love, and Eve herself. Eve is a student by day and prostitute by night. At home her father upbraids and beats her while her mother (“a small pile of shame”) weakly sits by. For years, boys and men have had their way with Eve. But Eve thinks she has found a way to avoid the fate that seems to await her and her friends. She has developed a kind of mind/body separation that allows her to think she is using the men who use her body.
I am in permanent negotiation. My body is a stop-over. 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.
I am transparent. The boys look at me like they can see me inside out. The girls avoid me like a sickness. My reputation’s been sealed.
I’m alone. But I’ve known for a long time the value of solitude. I walk straight ahead, untouchable. Nobody can read anything on my blank face, except what I choose to show. I’m not like the others. I don’t belong to Troumaron. The neighborhood didn’t steal my soul like the other drones that live there. This skeleton has a secret life sealed in its belly. It’s carved by the sharp edge of refusal. Neither the past nor the future matter; they don’t exist. And the present doesn’t either.…
I protect myself. I know how to protect myself from men. I’m the predator here.
They take me. They bring me back. Sometimes, they rough me up. No matter. It’s juts a body. It can be fixed. That’s what it’s for.
But Saad, Clélio, and Savika see a different Eve. As Savika puts it, “It hurts me to see her so fragile when she thinks she’s so strong.” When Savika meets Eve at school, she knows instantly what she must do.
I went weak. I was riveted by her sadness. Through the open doors of her sides, her life was escaping. I had to console her, take her in my arms like a mother or a lover, and make her forget, however briefly, why she was shaking.
Savika and Eve build a bond that is safe, loving, and beyond men. Here is Eve on their first kiss:
The taste of her mouth wasn’t at all like those of men. It was so gentle that I closed my eyes and savored it like candied papaya.
Outside the purview of men, we became happy, playful, for a few minutes.
Eve Out of Her Ruins delves into the seemingly innate differences between the sexes. As Eve puts it, “The two sexes don’t have the same heritage. We’re not born with the same burdens.”
What do men give in exchange for a body? They don’t give their own body; a man has to take. They protect themselves. They watch their shadows. We’re butterflies caught in a net, even at our most exultant, even at our most resistant. We’re stolen bodies.
Eve knows that the danger men pose to women arises from man’s need to possess. “Men’s hands take hold of you before even having touched you. Once their thoughts turn toward you, they’ve already possessed you.”
But Eve’s attempt to carefully control her life spins out of control when Savita is brutally murdered, her body dumped into a trash bin.
Saad, the poet, even though he, too, belongs to a gang out of self-preservation, can step out of his gender and see the ugly tendencies that men can have. He realizes that some men “are monsters hidden behind ordinary appearances.” And, looking at Eve, he “can understand why she couldn’t say I love you to a man.” In the end, it is only Saad who seems to have a path out of the ruins through his poetry. “I write in order to not go crazy.”
Eve Out of Her Ruins is yet another impressive book from Deep Vellum Publishing. Jeffrey Zuckermann did the translation from the 2006 French original Éve des ses décombres. Devi’s book was made into a French-language film titled Les Enfants de Troumaron in 2012. Two different versions of the trailer can be seen on YouTube and on Vimeo. - sebald.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/eve-out-of-her-ruins/