Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Deep Vellum
Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin
Saadiq is still hanging on in school, finding kinship in the poetry of Rimbaud and trying to write his own story on his bedroom wall with a marker. Clélio is a thug who’s been in and out of jail all through his youth. Savita is the good girl trying hard to set an example for her younger sister. Eve is the beautiful, bone-thin object of their desires. She is the object of desire for many in the impoverished cité of Troumaron, on the edge of Port Louis.
The setting for Ananda Devi’s heartbreaking and lyrical novel, Eve Out of Her Ruins, is the capital of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean smaller than the state of Rhode Island. The island was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, followed later by the French and the British, and finally gained independence in 1968. Mauritian Creole, French, English, Bhojpuri, and at least eight other languages are spoken by its nearly 1.3 million people.
Troumaron, home to those four main narrators of the story, is a fictitious neighborhood created by Devi. Its name, she explains, is meant to refer to a “brown hole” or a “hole for escaped slaves (marrones).” On rutted neighborhood streets littered with trash, Eve feels as if she is living through a siege:
“But this isn’t just the city. The world is also fighting against everything that staggers forward, everything that doesn’t walk in victory. Its distant rhythms aren’t for us. It’s better to be born blind so as not to see the rage in its eyes. Everybody’s preparing for war.”
Mauritius is generally presented as an African success story. Sugar cane, jewelry manufacturing, tourism, and financial services make up the bulk of the country’s economy. The annual growth rate has been above three percent for several years. The Troumaronis of Devi’s novel, however, are the people hidden behind national statistics.
At seventeen, Eve uses her body as a weapon to get what she needs from those who have more of everything than she does: more money, more power, more hope. She is as proud of her solitude as she is lonely, but she refuses to let Troumaron steal her soul even as people use her body. Her self-awareness is both keen and gendered:
“We’re all born with this naked and open flesh. Then each of us fashions an armor of thorns and spiky brambles. But the two sexes don’t have the same heritage. We’re not born with the same burdens.”
Now is a good time to be reading about Mauritius and its people. A long-standing dispute between the country and former colonial power Great Britain over control of the nearby Chagos Islands has heated up in recent months. The islands are home to the secretive Diego Garcia military base jointly managed by the UK and the US. In June the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer their dispute to the International Court of Justice, which has no legal power to enforce whatever ruling it makes.
Eve’s tragedy, when it strikes, has an inevitability about it. There is a hierarchy even among the poor, and she is at the bottom of it. We read to learn not only who committed the crime, but whether the powerful will be held accountable.
Eve Out of Her Ruins was originally published in French in 2006 and quickly began to gather awards. It was adapted for film, appearing as Les enfants de Troumaron in 2012. English language readers had to wait until 2016 when Deep Vellum brought out Jeffrey Zuckerman’s excellent translation, which has garnered its own awards. The story Devi tells is as unique to its place as it is universal. The beautiful language of the text and the voices of its four main characters are what make it stand out and well worth the read.