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:
“ 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 new writers.”
– Vancouver Sun
“Dazzling…Mootoo creates a dense Asian-Caribbean world of buried secrets and desperate memories, a hothouse in which stories grow as lushly as flowers.”
– Books in Canada
“The passion of the characters, their insistence to live, to find joy despite the tyranny under which they conduct their lives, makes Cereus Blooms at Night remarkable.”
–Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy
“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
“Working with magic, grounded by psychological insight, Mootoo weaves a deft design of vivid and sensuous scenes.”
– Quill & Quire
“This ethereal first novel employs myth and magic reminiscent of Isabel Allende.”
– Out Magazine (U.S.)
“Reading Cereus Blooms at Night is like reading a dream, entering a strange but believable world in which unusual possibilities flower like the cereus itself: evocative, pervasive, sensuous.”
– Books in Canada
“A swirling cauldron of cross-generational history filled with violence, romance, aching beauty, and heart-breaking mystery.”
– Sojourner (U.S.)
“This is a new writer with a generous spirit and a gift for storytelling. We should watch where she travels next.”
– The Globe and Mail
“Mootoo’s ability to evoke a physical environment is so convincing that the reader can taste the grittiness of lime dust on her own lips.…She is able to enter each character from their own deepest place of privacy.”
– Lambda Book Report (U.S.)
“Like the titular cereus that blooms once a year at night, Mootoo at the climax releases a dense burst of aroma into this exquisitely exact novel.”
– Georgia Straight
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Book Description Granta Books, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX1862072493