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BRUISED HIBISCUS by Elizabeth Nunez

BRUISED HIBISCUS

By Elizabeth Nunez

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56743-065-1
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

 Set in Trinidad during the 1950s, this dense, often convoluted novel loosely intertwines the stories of two women, each trapped in a loveless, degrading marriage. When the body of a white woman probably killed by her husband washes up on the shore of a beach in Otahiti, it sets off ripples of shock that affect all the villagers. Rosa, daughter of an English plantation family, has fantasies of killing her own spouse, Cedric, a black schoolteacher who abuses her emotionally and sexually. Similar fantasies inspire Zuela, who must protect her 10 children from the cruelty of their opium-addicted Chinese merchant father. Zuela and Rosa were friends as children, but when they saw a man forcing sex upon a young girl, the shame and horror of what they witnessed created a rift between them. Chance brings them together again, but their destinies work themselves out quite differently. When Cedric develops stomach cancer, Rosa is filled with guilt and turns to her black former nurse, who provides a cure and helps Rosa find the strength to leave her awful marriage. But it is not Rosa's fate to be saved, even after all the penance and rhetoric of self-discovery (which sounds curiously contemporary). Zuela fares better: When she learns that her husband has raped their daughter, she finds the singleness of purpose to break the shackles that bind her to him. Nunez (When Rocks Dance, 1986) has written an ambitious book that is most successful in its portrayal of a particular culture, time, and place. She is less successful in making Rosa's and Zuela's story lines reflect and intersect with each other; the connections feel forced and contrived, and the symbolism of the final chapters is pretty heavy-handed. Lovely in parts, but finally spoiled by its excesses of language, plot, and metaphor.