Today, Johanna McCalmont takes us to Mauritius with a review of the new YA edition of Eve out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman…
“Did this place make us this way, or is it the other way round?”
The place is Troumaron, a run-down (fictional) neighbourhood in the Mauritian capital Port Louis. Life here is tough: the factory has shut, jobs are scarce, gangs hunt like feral dogs, and the volcano of violence is ready to erupt at any moment. This is where we meet 17-year-old Eve on a night she no longer has a choice. As she hobbles and limps along the waterfront “a monster rises, fully formed”. Where is Eve going? What is in her bag? And why can she not be stopped?
We are immediately drawn into the pain, suffering, frustration and hopelessness of the four 17-year-olds who alternately narrate this fast-paced, 165-page novel: Eve, a wisp of a girl who trades her body for things she needs; Saad, the lovelorn poet ignored by Eve and torn between his gang and dreams of a better life; Clélio, a thug with a record who seems destined to remain prime suspect number one; and Savita, Eve’s ‘twin’ and, eventually, lover.
Saad and the other boys can only look on with envy as Eve and Savita’s smiles “suggest no need of any boys”. Eve, meanwhile, sinks deeper and deeper into her disembodiment— recounted through unnamed chapters in italics—as she allows older men, including her biology teacher, to use and abuse her body. Her bond with Savita is savagely broken one night when Savita is brutally murdered and dumped in a pile of rubbish. The novel comes full circle, echoing the opening pages, as the mystery is solved.
This new YA edition from Les Fugitives contains a preface specially written by Devi. She shares the inspiration behind the story and characters and explains that Eve out of the ruins is not “just about the disenfranchised youth in Mauritius: it [is] about all of them whether in Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Mumbai or New York … how they couldn’t see a way out […] I wrote for them and not about them.” This book clearly belongs in the hands of readers the same age as its characters.
Zuckerman’s skill in crafting this exquisite translation should not be underestimated either. A Translator’s Note at the end offers not only background context, but valuable insights into how he carefully interwove Devi’s French, English and Mauritian Creole text into the English translation.
Eve out of her ruins packs punch after punch and is one of the most visceral YA books I’ve read this year. It is not for the faint hearted. The descriptions of violence, both physical and sexual, are sparse and brief, but crystal clear, making them all the more gut-wrenching. At the same time, the voices of the narrators are often poetic, evocatively breathing life into the colours, sounds and smells of Troumaron. Devi’s teenagers not only explore their own identities and look to the future, as typical of YA, they also ask much bigger questions—in a direct, yet natural way—about structural issues impacting the world today. Eve questions what it is to be a woman in relation to men who do not appear to give anything in return, while Clélio’s reflections contrast starkly with the low expectations society has for him as he calls out slavery, colonialism and climate change. Eve out of her ruins demands a nuanced reading and further reflection on several levels. This powerful story is sure to resonate with YA readers around the world.
Read More about the author and translator
Excerpt at Literary Hub
Interview with Ananda Devi by her translator Jeffrey Zuckerman for the French Embassy in the US here.
Interview with translator Jeffrey Zuckerman in Vol. 1 Brooklyn here.
With thanks to Les Fugitives for an advance copy of Eve out of her ruins.
Ananda Devi was born in Mauritius and writes novels, short stories and poetry. Translated into a dozen languages, she is considered a powerful voice in modern African writing in French and has won several prestigious literary awards. She lived for many years in London, where she obtained a PhD in social anthropology, and in Congo-Brazzaville. She currently lives in Ferney-Voltaire, in France.
Jeffrey Zuckerman was born in the Midwest and works in New York as an editor and a translator from French. His recent translations include Ananda Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins and The Living Days as well as Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus, Thomas Clerc’s Interior, and Jean Genet’s The Criminal Child; he has also contributed shorter texts and translations to The New Republic, The Paris Review Daily, The White Review, and VICE.