Eve out of Her Ruins

Ananda Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman) is a shocking portrayal of life as a young girl in Troumaron, one of the poorest areas in Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius:

“Troumaron, a sort of funnel; where all the island’s wastewaters ultimately flow.”

It is a place without hope, as Saad, one of the novel’s four narrators, tells us: “One day we wake up and the future has disappeared.” Eve has nothing – “I went to school completely and totally empty” – until one day, still a child, she discovers a new currency when, in return for the small things that the boys give her – pencil, eraser, ruler – one wants “a piece of me.”

“For the first time my bag was no longer empty. I had something I could pay with: me.”

Eve increasingly exists in detachment. Saad talks about her having “solitude for an armour” and she, too, recognises the “value of solitude.” In using her body, she believes she has “decided my life.” Eve is not the only victim; whereas Saad, lover of poetry as well of Eve, has some hope of escape, his teachers suggesting, “you can make miracles happen,” Clelio, our third narrator, is already immersed in a life of crime and violence:

“I’m at war. Fighting everybody and nobody. I can’t get away from my rage.”

The only joy in Eve’s life comes for her friend, Savita:

“Our earrings chime. Her nose is pierced with a tiny jewel like a star. The poetry of women is laughter in this lost place.”

Savita’s voice only rarely joins the narrative. Where Clelio sees Eve as an object of lust, and Saad as one idealised by his love, Savita can see her more clearly:

“It hurts me to se her so fragile when she thinks she’s so strong. When she’s serious her face is like a child’s, shocked in a dream, eyes filled with lights.”

Her picture of Eve echoes that of another voice which Devi employs in the novel, a second person which addresses Eve directly, perhaps from a different part of her consciousness:

“You have no choice now. You can only scrub your burdened flesh again and again, without realising that you are also erasing your own flesh.”

As you can see, the temptation to quote Devi’s words is almost irresistible such is the power of her voice(s). The horror of Eve’s experiences would perhaps be harder to read in plainer prose but it would be wrong to suggest that Devi’s ‘poetic’ language somehow lessons the impact of the poverty and hopelessness she is describing. The language is only ‘poetic’ in the sense it is precise, that it uses words to perfectly capture the experience, the thought – that, like poetry, it is both unexpected and recognised at the same time. This works both in aphorisms such as, “Everyone knows poverty is the harshest of jailers,” or in imagery, such as when Eve’s life is described as a hand around her ankle, or the previously quoted, more subtle, suggestion of friendship in Eve and Savita’s earrings chiming. Above all, the individuality of the expression convinces the reader that Eve, and the other narrators, are individuals, with complex inner lives.

The novel’s second part takes us into the territory of the crime genre. Devi cleverly begins with Saad’s narrative creating the impression that Eve has been murdered, an event that has seemed almost inevitable for some time:

“She was found in the trash, at the bottom of a skip.”

Eve, however, is not the victim, though she is connected to the murder. Clelio finds himself accused:

“Couldn’t fail. I was the first one to be questioned. The first suspect.”

Ultimately the real killer will be found, and Saad will be allowed to demonstrate his love for Eve, but there will be little sense of hope or redemption. Saad sees her “sculpted like volcanic rock” suggesting that Eve will survive but at the same time all life has left her. Eve out of Her Ruins is a devastating portrait of poverty, a novel which is easily read but difficult to forget.

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4 Responses to “Eve out of Her Ruins”

  1. MarinaSofia Says:

    Les Fugitives has a talent for unearthing gems like this. Sounds compelling, if harsh.

  2. Claire 'Word by Word' Says:

    A devastating portrait and difficult to forget is exactly right. I remember looking forward to reading this and the shock of what it reveals. A family member was living on the island for a few months at the same time and the contrasts that exist were apparent in the images he shared. Powerful and hard hitting.

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