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When Mala, old and notoriously crazy, arrives at the Paradise Alms House, she is placed in the tender care of Tyler, a gay male nurse, and an extraordinary relationship begins to develop.
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There is much to admire about Shani Mootoo's first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night. In telling the tale of Mala Ramchandin, her sister, Asha, her childhood sweetheart Ambrose "Boyie" Mohanty, and the other inhabitants of the fictional Caribbean island of Lantanacamara, Mootoo has created a cast of remarkable characters capable of charming the reader. Narrated in part by Tyler, a young male nurse at a home for the elderly, Cereus begins with Mala's admission to the alms house in Paradise--the main city on Lantanacamara--under a cloud of mystery. The old lady won't speak and is suspected of a multitude of crimes, causing the head nurse of the home to keep her in restraints. Only Tyler is willing to care for her; it isn't long before Tyler, an outcast in Paradise because of his sexual orientation, and Mala, a pariah for other reasons, develop an unusual friendship.
For the first half of the book, Mootoo moves easily between Tyler's narrative and a third-person account of Mala's life as a child. The chapters covering the adoption of Mala's father, Chandin Ramchandin, by a white missionary and his wife and Chandin's obsession with his foster sister, Lavinia, offer a telling perspective on race and colonialism; later chapters detailing Chandin's descent into alcoholism, madness, and child abuse are occasionally overwrought, but the strong, child's-eye point of view of young Mala keeps the novel grounded. The second half of Cereus abandons both Tyler and the omniscient narrator, choosing to focus, instead, on Otoh Mohanty, the son of Mala's childhood friend, Boyie. Here Mootoo also introduces, for the first time, elements of the fantastic: a girl who "wills" herself to become a boy; a man who sleeps for weeks at a time, only waking one day each month; a mysterious, locked room that holds a horrifying secret. The result is pure melodrama wrapped up in lovely prose.
Even though the last half of the book seems too suddenly freighted towards the magical and improbable, and the happy ending is a trifle too contrived, Cereus Blooms at Night showcases Shani Mootoo's impressive mastery of language. And in Mala Ramchandin, she has created a tough and tender heroine who commands the reader's interest and sympathy from first page to last. --Alix WilberFrom the Back Cover:
Shani Mootoo's haunting and evocative debut novel has taken the international literary world by storm. A finalist for the 1997 Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Cereus Blooms at Night has established Shani Mootoo as one of our most gifted new storytellers.
Set on a fictional Caribbean island in the town of Paradise, Cereus Blooms at Night unveils the mystery surrounding Mala Ramchandin and the tempestuous history of her family. At the heart of this bold and seductive novel is an alleged crime committed many years before the story opens. Mala is the aging, notoriously crazy woman suspected of murder who is delivered to the Paradise Alms House after a judge finds her unfit to stand trial. When she arrives at her new home, frail and mute, she is placed in the tender care of Tyler, a vivacious male nurse, who becomes her unlikely confidant and the storyteller of Mala's extraordinary life.
In luminous, sensual prose that "employs myth and magic reminiscent of Isabel Allende" (Out magazine), Mootoo joins diverse storytelling traditions to explore identity, gender, and violence in a celebration of our capacity to love despite cruelty and despair.
"A story of magical power."-Alice Munro
"Cereus Blooms at Night is dazzling. . . . Mootoo creates a dense, vocal and unique Asian-Caribbean world of buried secrets and desperate memories, a hothouse in which stories grow as lushly as flowers."-Books in Canada
"A swirling cauldron of cross-generational history filled with violence, romance, aching beauty and heart-breaking mystery."-Sojourners
"Cereus Blooms at Night is a gem, a wonderful flower of a first novel; Shani Mootoo can be counted as one of our most gifted writers."-Vancouver Sun
"Mootoo weaves a deft design of vivid and sensuous scenes . . . [She] has given us a memorable lesson in the value of love, whatever guise it may wear."-Quill and Quire
"Shani Mootoo digs deep into the heart of classic storytelling, expanding, sculpting, and molding what is expected into a completely fresh approach to narrative. Her language and characters seduce us away to a mythic place that is, by turns, as sweet as the first knowing of love and as hard as a callous blow. Inside the grand sweep of the story are the finely tuned details which mark a brilliant storyteller."-Jewelle Gomez
Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad. A filmmaker and visual artist, she has written and directed several videos; her paintings and photo-based works are exhibited internationally. Shani Mootoo is also a published poet and the author of Out on Main Street, a collection of stories. Cereus Blooms at Night is her first novel.
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