by Shani Mootoo ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
An intricate plot and vigorously inventive prose are the distinguishing features of this highly praised first novel by Mootoo (stories: Out on Main Street, not reviewed), a Canadian writer and visual artist born in Ireland and raised in Trinidad. The setting is a town called Paradise on a Caribbean island (Lantacamara) where male ""nurse Tyler,"" a timid homosexual who describes himself as ""neither properly man nor woman, but some in-between, unnamed thing,"" ferrets out the history of a mysterious, mute old woman whom he cares for at the Paradise Alms House. Mala Ramchandin is part of the island's (Asian) Indian population, and--as Tyler painstakingly learns--one of the two daughters of her ambitious father Chandin, a native educated by white Christian missionaries and destroyed by his yearning to cross inflexible social and racial boundaries. In a compulsively readable narrative that leaps deftly about in time, Mootoo gradually discloses the circumstances leading up to Mala's withdrawal: Chandin's reluctant marriage to his fellow native Sarah and his frustrated love for her white mistress Lavinia; Sarah's panicked abandonment of her husband and children; and the solace that the aggrieved Chandin sought from Mala and her sister Asha. The sinuous unwinding of Mootoo's clever plot will remind many readers of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, which this novel resembles also in its plenitude of exotic detail, magical-realist interludes, and captivating language (its characters speak a lilting pidgin English reminiscent of the dialogue in V.S. Naipaul's early fiction). Mootoo does leave some loose ends dangling, however, and one doesn't know quite what to make of Tyler's incipient romance with Otoh, the son (or perhaps daughter) of Mala's former schoolmate. Still, this strongly imagined vision of a post-Edenic paradise where ""almost everybody . . . wish they could be somebody or something else"" offers a moving portrayal of a pathetically ruined life and an appealing allegory of the varieties of romantic and sexual experience.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998
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