By Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Winner of the 2017 CLMP Firecracker Award for Fiction
A harrowing account of the hidden violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
"Devi writes about terrible and bitter events with a soft, delicate voice." —Le Figaro
With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.
Eve Out of Her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.
The book features an original introduction by Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio, who declares Devi “a truly great writer.”
Winner of the 2017 CLMP Firecracker Award for Fiction
Awarded the "Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie" in 2006
Included in World Literature Today's "75 Notable Translations of 2016"
"One of Devi and Zuckerman's greatest triumphs in this book is that each character has their own distinct rhythms, with power and poetry drawn from the cadences of their speech... It could be a manifesto for reading translated fiction, and this stunning short novel is a perfect starting point." —Deborah Smith, The Guardian
"The beauty of Devi's prose belies the horror of the world she conjures up. This is a visceral portrait of violence rendered honestly and gracefully." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Eve Out of Her Ruins is a spare, traumatic and enriching novel, newly and superbly translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman... Her characters emerge from the page with arresting immediacy and startling vividness. This is a novel that can take you to fathomless depths." —Matthew Adams, The National
“Zuckerman's translation is artful... While descriptive, the sparse language adds to the sense of hopelessness and the scarcity in which the characters live.” —Hannah Wise, Dallas Morning News
"The most vivid novel I’ve read in ages, magnificently translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. The gorgeous, profoundly poetic writing is completely mesmerizing and viscerally affecting.” —Jennifer Croft, BTBA 2017 Judge
"The desolate, poor, and often-violent lives of the island’s inhabitants are exposed in the stark and lyrical prose of Ananda Devi’s brief and revealing novel... Devi’s trenchant yet terse prose perfectly captures the lives of these sad and forgotten outcasts from this small island nation.” —Melissa Beck, World Literature Today
“A remarkable book that is as much a call to action as it is a love story, Devi beautifully juxtaposes the beauty and despair of the island through her dreamy, ethereal prose, and the audacity of her characters’ ambition.” —Laura Farmer, Cedar Rapids Gazette
"Eve’s coping, her delicious revenge and small acts of goodness by other characters give the translation a hopeful tone. Eve sidesteps poverty and abuse — the true antagonists in the novel — and Devi’s poetic writing provides portraits of characters who force their own bodies into mattering." —Allison Cundiff, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“In this heartbreaking lightning-paced novel, Ananda Devi burns down all of the colonialist stereotypes surrounding the island, instead depicting a place that has been devastated by history and anguish.” —Adam Hocker, Staff Pick at Albertine Books
"A story that stays with the reader long after it's read." —Michael Barron, The Culture Trip
"a novel of conversations, emotions, aspirations, and setbacks... This is a novel of haunting language with a powerful message about gender and violence." —Terry Pitts, Vertigo
“Devi’s powerful novel has stuck with me weeks after finishing and Zuckerman’s lively translation captures the intensity of the daily struggle for life the teens face.” —Caitlin Baker, Seattle City Literature
“Zuckerman’s translation is confident and accomplished, capturing the marine clarity of the prose without losing any of its poetic heat.” —Anjuli Raza Kolb, Bookforum
“[Eve’s] journey, harrowing and doomed as it may be, is described with unforgettable poetry and power.” —Willard Manus, Lively Arts
"This slim volume is such a harrowing experience, some may balk at continuing once the fate of the titular Eve becomes clear... If one of [translator Jeffrey Zuckerman's] key objectives was to retain the spare poetry of her native prose, he has triumphed. For while the events that take place against a stark backdrop of political instability and social injustice are difficult to acknowledge, the language of Eve Out of Her Ruins is irresistable." —Gary Kaill, The Skinny
"Set in a poor section of Port-Louis, Mauritius, this prize-winning novel is a poetic and intense exploration of young lives thrown away by society. Told in four different voices and haunted by the specter of Rimbaud, Devi explores, the violence, identity, and dreams of young people living discarded lives. For fans of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Jean Genet." —Josh Cook, Porter Square Books
“Heartbreaking and honest.” —The Wild Detectives bookstore, Dallas
"The emblematic figurehead of Mauritian literature." —Le Monde
"One of the most gorgeous things I’ve read in a long time… the book reads as a beautiful and complex chord whose disharmonies combine into something shimmering and fragilely resonant.” —Sarah McCarry, The Rejectionist
“With every page, I fall more in love with this book.” —Lissie Jaquette
"Turning her back on the illusion of eternal youth, Devi focuses unflinchingly on that tipping point in life that only women can understand, since where sex is concerned men and women must forever remain "mutually unintelligible." Yes, here is a truly great writer, since when we finish Devi's book we are unlikely to know what has motivated her to write such a story, such a cry of protest. But its music, its powerful grip on the reader...give us a glimpse inside the cave where once a love-struck monk, under the spell of the dark angel of the imagination, succeeded in creating the miracle all artists dream of, reshaping reality according to his desires." —J.M.G. Le Clézio, Le Novel Observateur
"Devi writes about terrible and bitter events with a soft, delicate voice." —Le Figaro
"One of the major literary voices of the Indian Ocean." —PEN American Centre
"The work of Ananda Devi is both tragic and poetic. Haunted by the issues of exclusion, of otherness, deviance and suffering, it denounces the stifling climate of a society...it stands against any form of rejection and offers a genuine commitment...for the recognition of otherness." —Véronique Bragard
“Through the distinct narratives of four young Mauritians, Ananda Devi unfolds a kaleidoscope of elegiac poeticism and harrowing immediacy, magically bestowing brilliance to the dark and violent corners of their lives. Eve Out of Her Ruins twists the reader’s mind into a brutally honest and heartbreaking knot, which cannot be undone.” —Jarrod Annis, Paul Lisicky, and Pia Padukone, Word Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)
“This novel brings to us the lives of those who are rarely seen, the outcasts and the desperate. The prose is beautiful and stark, shifting with ease from one voice to another. There are some tender moments, but these are drowned or disfigured by the chaos of everyday life.” —Amuse Douche blog
“Eve Out of Her Ruins has much that is forceful and true, and it dares to tread where we often don’t want to – the traumatic intersection of desire, violence, power, poverty and shame.” —Durba Chattaraj, Scroll.in
"The detailing of these lives is like dabs of paint on a watercolour canvas which grows and spreads, hinting at incidents, creating an atmosphere that hangs heavy." —Sumitra Kannan, The Deccan Herald
"Devi's succinct graphic sentences, which vividly evoke such events, also convey sensual and even poetic imagery. Poetry remains a permanent, if mostly remote horizon, a sort of reminder of 'something else' in the harsh world in which the characters must survive." —John Taylor, Arts Fuse
"Eve Out of Her Ruins is a pleasure to read, with Zuckerman doing excellent work on the variety of voices Devi uses, a vital combination to the success of the novel. Just as much, though, it's the character of Eve that makes the story, an enigmatic figure ghosting through the novel, perhaps best seen when the dark background is set against occasional rays of light and happiness." —Tony Malone, Tony's Reading List
Walking is hard. I limp, I hobble along on the steaming asphalt. With each step a monster rises, fully formed.
The urban night swells, elastic, around me.The salty air from the Caudan waterfront scrapes my wounds and my skin, but I go on. I clear my own path. What was once deep within me—the slow drip of life that has slipped away and turned me into this livid creature sucking the night dry—no longer matters.The silence that fills me takes my breath away.
I’m getting into my stride. I no longer have a choice. I can only hear the stuttering beat of my footsteps. I hoist my schoolbag on my right shoulder; there aren’t just books in it tonight. There’s a reassuring bulge right next to my armpit: the blaze of false starts and missed arrivals. Soon enough it will no longer be a rhythm coursing through my veins. I’m going to leave my mark on a forehead, right between the eyebrows. I was born for this moment.
I wipe my neck. The coarse feel of it surprises me. The lack of hair makes me feel more naked than ever. Then I remember: my mother sheared it off. When I saw myself in the mirror, I saw that I had a lioness’s head. I had a mane of hunger.
I walk, even if I’d rather run toward myself. The night quivers. The city trembles. I have gone. Nothing can stop me now.
I am Saadiq. Everybody calls me Saad.
Between despair and cruelty the line is thin.
Eve is my fate, but she claims not to know it.When she bumps into me, her gaze passes through me without stopping. I disappear. I’m in a gray place. Or rather, yellowish brown, which better suits its name: Troumaron.Troumaron, a sort of funnel; where all the island’s wastewaters ultimately flow. Here is where the cyclone refugees are rehomed, those rendered homeless by tropical storms and who, two or five or ten or twenty years later, still have their toes in the water and their eyes pale as rain.
I’ve always lived there. I was born a refugee. Like everyone else who’s grown up in the yellow shadows of these buildings, I’ve never understood their monstrous edges. I never saw the gaps born beneath our feet, separating us from the world. I played with Eve. We called her the skeleton because she was so thin, but also to mask an unspoken affection. We played at war until we found ourselves at war.
We are at the bottom of Signal Mountain. Port Louis grabs our feet but we are stuck here. The city turns its back on us. Its muted magma stops at our borders. The mountain blocks our view of other things. Between the city and the stone are our buildings, our rubble, our trash. The eczema of paint and the tar beneath our feet. A children’s playground has become a battleground teeming with needles, shards of broken glass, hopes snaking into nothing. Here, boys clenched their fists for the first time, and girls cried for the first time. Here, everyone has faced up to their realities.
One day we wake up and the future has disappeared. The sky hides the windows. Night makes its way into our bodies and refuses to leave.
Night and our hormones gone wild. We boys are bundles of frustration. We start following girls to the shuttered factory that devoured our mothers’ dreams. Maybe that’s also what’s waiting for them. There’s nothing left of the factory but an empty metal shell and hundreds of sewing machines that carved into their shoulders that curve of despair and into their hands those nicks and cuts like tattoos. The remnants of every woman who worked here linger. We see that they tried to bestow some humanity on this desolation. Beside each machine, there’s a mauve plastic flower, yellowing family photos, postcards from Europe, and even a forgotten red barrette, a strand of hair still caught in it. And religious symbols—crucifixes, Koranic verses, Buddha statues, Krishna figures—that would allow us to guess which community they belonged to, if we wanted to play such guessing games. When the factory closed down, they weren’t even allowed to retrieve their things. It was that abrupt, that unexpected, but I realized, later, that they hadn’t wanted to see any of it. I wonder what use all this piety was to them. In any case, all of it was left to rust and to our perverse games behind the moldy curtains. These are our traces, in these stale, dingy rooms. Stains of so many virginities lost here.
Sometimes, when the neighborhood is quiet, the island’s sounds seem different. Other kinds of music, less funereal tones, the clang of cash registers, the dazzle of development. The tourists scorn us without realizing it. Money has made them naïve. We cheat them out of a few rupees until they begin to mistrust our pleasant, false faces.
The country puts on its sky-blue dress, the better to seduce them. A marine perfume wafts from its crotch. From here we can’t see the island all dolled up, and their eyes, dazzled by the sun, can’t see us. As things should be.
Mothers disappear in a resigned haze. Fathers find in alcohol the virtue of authority. But they don’t have that anymore, authority. Authority, that’s us, the boys. We’ve recruited our troops like military leaders. We’ve carved out our portions of the neighborhood. Once our parents stopped working, we became the masters. Everybody knows we can’t be ordered around. And now nobody can look us in the eyes without shivering. From that moment, each of us began to live as he wanted to, free from everything, free from rules. We make the rules.
But something else has slipped into my dreams lately. I mark the walls of my room with my questions; I bloody them with the juice of words. I learn to be quiet. I learn to talk to myself. I learn to put myself together and to take myself apart. I suppose we’re all like that; we go with the flow, like the others, but inside, each of us withdraws into himself and harbors his secrets. I follow in their steps and I act like I belong, as a matter of form, as a matter of survival. Eve doesn’t understand that.
Eve walks by, her hair like foamy night, in her skin-tight jeans, and the others snigger and suck their teeth in lust, but I—I want to kneel down. She doesn’t look at us. She isn’t afraid of us. She has her solitude for armor.
At night, my hormones seize on her face and describe it in long arcs of desire.When I can’t bear it anymore, I go out with the gang, our noisy mopeds tormenting the sleepy old folk. In the morning, the others sink into the stupor of drugs and rage. But I go take a shower, I shave, and I go to class. This double life sucks me dry, yet nothing in the world could keep me from seeing Eve’s profile in the morning at the bus stop, a sliver of sunlight playing on her ear.
And then, I swear, I love words.
I slip a poetry book into her bag.
Later, she bumps into me and her eyes bore through me. It drives me insane.
To her I dedicate all the sentences that have been darkening my walls. To her I dedicate all my bitter suns.
Our cité is our kingdom. Our city in the city, our town in the town. Port Louis has changed shape; it has grown long teeth and buildings taller than its mountains. But our neighborhood hasn’t changed. It’s the last bastion. Here, we let our identities happen: we are those who do not belong. We call ourselves bann Troumaron—the Troumaronis—as if we were yet another kind of people on this island filled with so many kinds already. Maybe we actually are.
Our lair, our playground, our battleground, our cemetery. Everything is there.We don’t need anything else. One day we’ll be invincible and the world will tremble.That’s our ambition.
Pencil. Eraser. Ruler. Paper. Gum. I played blind man’s bluff with the things I wanted. I was a child, but not entirely. I was twelve years old. I shut my eyes and held out my hand. My fingers closed on air. I shivered in my thin clothes. I thought everything was within reach. I made moonlight shine in the boys’ eyes. I believed I had powers.
Pencil. Eraser. Ruler. I held out my hand because in my bag there was nothing. I went to school completely and totally empty. I felt some kind of pride in not having anything. People can be rich even in having nothing.
Because I was small, because I was thin, because my arms and my legs were as straight as a child’s drawing, the bigger boys protected me. They gave me what I wanted. They thought a gust of wind would tip me over like a paper boat with a leak in its side.
I was a paper boat. Water seeped into my sides, my stomach, my legs, my arms. I didn’t know it. I thought I was strong. I weighed up my chances. Assessed every moment. I knew how to ask without seeming to.
Pencil, eraser, ruler, it didn’t matter. The boys gave me things. Their faces softened slightly, and that changed everything, it made them look human. And then, one day, when I asked without seeming to, they asked me for something in return.
I thought it would be simple, it would be easy. What could they want in return? I was the smallest one, the least important one. Everyone knew I had nothing. For once, they were saying I had something. My bag held many nothings: the nothingness of my apartment, smaller and more bare than everyone else’s; the empty nothingnesses of our wardrobes; even those of our trash cans. There was the nothing of my father’s eye, which alcohol had turned oily. The nothing that was my mother’s mouth and eyelids, both of them stapled shut. I had nothing, nothing at all to give.
But I was mistaken.
He wanted a piece of me.
He dragged me o to a corner of the playground, behind a huge Indian almond tree, he pinned me against the tree’s trunk, and he slipped his hand under my T-shirt. I was wearing a red T-shirt, with a soccer player’s name on it. I don’t remember who anymore. His hand stopped at my breasts, slowly moved up and down, just over the small black points. There was hardly anything there. I heard other children shouting and playing. They seemed far away. It was another world. The boy had slipped his other hand in. His skin turned blotchy. His cheek was hot. He took his time, even though he was scared. But I didn’t feel anything. I was out of my body. It was apart from me.
That day, he didn’t ask me for anything else. He gave me an eraser, or a pencil, or a notebook, I don’t remember. His lips came close to my ear. The next time, he said, we’ll try something else.
I shrugged, but I stared with some curiosity at his eyes. They had a silver sheen like melted sugar. As if he had been erased. Now he only existed through his hands. Now he only existed through me.
For the first time my bag was no longer empty. I had something I could pay with: myself.
I could buy. Exchange myself for what I needed. Exchange morsels, bits, various parts of my body. I looked brazenly at the taller boys when school was let out. You want to see something? I asked them. They laughed and said, Go away, there’s nothing to see. But then they looked at me a long while and my eyes told them something else. I knew how to do it. Someone else slipped fluidly into my gaze, someone completely separate from my bony body. I refused to be small or weak. I contradicted myself. That changed everything.They stopped breathing.They flowed into the shadows on my face.They left caresses there, a slime of desire that oozed down my right cheek. They, the bigger boys, had something else to give in return: books, calculators, CDs. All I gave them was the shadow of a body.
I am in permanent negotiation. My body is a stop-over. Entire sections have been explored. Over time, they blossom with burns and cracks. Everyone leaves some trace, marks his territory.
I am seventeen years old and I don’t give a fuck. I’m buying my future.
I am transparent. The boys look at me like they can see me inside out. The girls avoid me like a sickness. My reputation’s been sealed.
I’m alone. But I’ve known for a long while the value of solitude. I walk straight ahead, untouchable. Nobody can read anything on my blank face, except what I choose to show. I’m not like the others. I don’t belong to Troumaron. The neighborhood didn’t steal my soul like the other drones that live there. This skeleton has a secret life sealed in its belly. It’s carved by the sharp edge of refusal. Neither the past nor the future matter; they don’t exist. And the present doesn’t either.
Eraser. Pencil. Ruler. Beginnings are always easy. And then we open our eyes to a bleak world, to a universe under siege. The looks of others, eyes that judge and condemn. I’m seventeen and I’ve decided my life.
I’m braving the reefs all around me. I won’t be like my mother. I won’t be like my father. I’m something else, something not really alive. I walk alone, straight ahead. I’m not afraid of anybody. They’re the ones who fear me, who fear what they can only guess lies beneath my skin.
The more they touch me, the more they lose hold of me. The ones who dare to look into my eyes feel dizzy. They’re so simple. The inexplicable frightens them.They have fixed ideas. A girl to marry, a girl to conquer and toss aside. Those are the only two categories they can understand. But I don’t belong to one or the other. So they end up baffled and angry.
At night, I haunt the asphalt. Meetings are arranged. They take me, they bring me back. I remain cold. Whatever changes in me, it’s not the truest, innermost part of myself. I protect myself. I know how to protect myself from men. I’m the predator here.
They take me. They bring me back. Sometimes, they rough me up. No matter. It’s just a body. It can be fixed. That’s what it’s for.
I sidestep the traps and the obstacles. I dance in evasion.
Ananda Devi was born in 1957 in Trois-Boutiques, Mauritius, an island notable for its confluence of diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identities. She studied ethnology and anthropology, and completed a doctoral thesis at SOAS in London. After several years in the Congo, she moved to Switzerland in 1989. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry over her entire career. Eve Out of Her Ruins, originally published by the prestigious Gallimard publishing house in France in 2006, was an enormous critical and popular success, winning the Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie for the best novel of the year written in French, previously won by such writers as Alain Mabanckou and Mathias Enard. She was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2010. Her first novel in English, Indian Tango, was published by Host Publications in 2011. Devi has participated in numerous literary festivals in the US, Europe, and India, and her works have been translated into numerous languages.
Jeffrey Zuckerman is Digital Editor at Music & Literature magazine and a translator from French. He has served on the 2016 jury for the PEN Translation Prize, and his translation of Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus is forthcoming from Open Letter Books in 2017. His writing and translations have appeared in Best European Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, the New Republic, and VICE. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clzio was born in 1940 in Nice, France, but both parents had strong family connections with the former French colony of Mauritius. He is president and long-standing member of the prize jury for the Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie (awarded to Ananda Devis Eve Out of Her Ruins in 2006), and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.