Troumaron lives up to its name, which French speakers with a grasp of Mauritian Creole might hear as trou marron (‘brown hole’). It’s a grim neighbourhood – a ghetto – far from the touristed areas of Port Louis, capital of Mauritius. The novel’s action takes place there, since it is home to the four alternating narrators, Eve, Savita, Saadiq and Clelio. ‘Action’ may be misleading, since few physical events occur, though those that do make a violent, irreversible impact upon the narrators. We are offered four interwoven monologues, looking inwards as each narrator confronts the abrasive threats of daily life in Troumaron, offset only by glimpses of hope – dreams maybe – as they search for ways of escape.
All four are seventeen. Surprisingly, they are still on roll at a local school, though their teachers seem wearily disenchanted; or even, in one instance, predatory. Eve, who is the novel’s main focus, has settled for selling her body as the only way of exercising control over her life, regarding the men who pay her as objects, much as they treat her. Saadiq reads whatever he can find and is serious about the poetry he writes; he is consumed by an unspoken passion for Eve. Savita is Eve’s closest friend, the most secure of the four; her love for Eve is generous, without self-interest. Clelio already has a reputation as a hard man in a local gang, his loneliness evident only in the privacy of his monologues. Disenfranchised by the accident of their birthplace, their futures are barren. In a note to this edition, Devi says that although she began her novel in 2006 with the youth of Troumaron in mind, the eruptions in the Parisian banlieues of that year and the prospects facing disadvantaged young adults in the present day, seem to her all too close to the stories of these narrators.
Mauritian born Ananda Devi is a scholar (PhD in Social Anthropology from SOAS) and the author of thirteen novels, short stories and poetry. The prose in these reflective monologues is marked by its sustained imagery, which may ask YA readers to find new modes of reading – to pause and re-read, perhaps, to make space for those images to work. The consequent meanings they find might well be harsh, often exploring the suffering and brutality of an environment dominated by male sexuality. Saadiq’s prose is consciously poetic – he tells us he is influenced by the late teenage writings of Rimbaud. Each of the other three has a voice distinguished by individual characteristics. Devi gives all her narrators a fluency which carries no implication that growing up in deprived Troumaron has limited their use of language – through such means, this feels more like fable than realism.
The novel was first published in French in 2006. The present translation appeared in 2016 winning awards for both author and translator. The insights and sensitivity of Jeffrey Zuckerman’s post-text note suggest a translation which captures the challenging spirit of the original. This 2021 publication is searching for a new audience. London-based Les Fugitives, who publish award-winning contemporary fiction and non-fiction from the French, secured an Arts Council grant to foster young readers’ awareness of fiction in translation featuring disadvantaged young characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds. The publishers hope the book will now find a crossover readership and also appeal to young adults. Idiosyncratic, flexible and experienced readers may well find the impact of the unusual telling and even the darkness of events and location, powerful and memorable. For others, the frequent imagery with its need for exploration of meanings, and the narrative’s pervasive sense of menace largely unrelieved by humour or dialogue, may present a complex challenge.