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Cereus Blooms at Night Paperback – October 27, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There is much to admire about Shani Mootoo's first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night. In telling the tale of Mala Ramchandin, her sister, Asha, her childhood sweetheart Ambrose "Boyie" Mohanty, and the other inhabitants of the fictional Caribbean island of Lantanacamara, Mootoo has created a cast of remarkable characters capable of charming the reader. Narrated in part by Tyler, a young male nurse at a home for the elderly, Cereus begins with Mala's admission to the alms house in Paradise--the main city on Lantanacamara--under a cloud of mystery. The old lady won't speak and is suspected of a multitude of crimes, causing the head nurse of the home to keep her in restraints. Only Tyler is willing to care for her; it isn't long before Tyler, an outcast in Paradise because of his sexual orientation, and Mala, a pariah for other reasons, develop an unusual friendship.

For the first half of the book, Mootoo moves easily between Tyler's narrative and a third-person account of Mala's life as a child. The chapters covering the adoption of Mala's father, Chandin Ramchandin, by a white missionary and his wife and Chandin's obsession with his foster sister, Lavinia, offer a telling perspective on race and colonialism; later chapters detailing Chandin's descent into alcoholism, madness, and child abuse are occasionally overwrought, but the strong, child's-eye point of view of young Mala keeps the novel grounded. The second half of Cereus abandons both Tyler and the omniscient narrator, choosing to focus, instead, on Otoh Mohanty, the son of Mala's childhood friend, Boyie. Here Mootoo also introduces, for the first time, elements of the fantastic: a girl who "wills" herself to become a boy; a man who sleeps for weeks at a time, only waking one day each month; a mysterious, locked room that holds a horrifying secret. The result is pure melodrama wrapped up in lovely prose.

Even though the last half of the book seems too suddenly freighted towards the magical and improbable, and the happy ending is a trifle too contrived, Cereus Blooms at Night showcases Shani Mootoo's impressive mastery of language. And in Mala Ramchandin, she has created a tough and tender heroine who commands the reader's interest and sympathy from first page to last. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The fecund and fertile cycles of Caribbean life pervade this powerful first novel from Mootoo (Out on Main Street), who invokes all the senses, especially sight and smell, to portray the town of Paradise on the fictional island of Lantanacamara. When Mala Ramchandin, the town madwoman and a rumored murderess, checks into the Paradise Alms Hotel, the only nurse compassionate enough to properly care for her is Tyler, the young narrator of the tale. As a gay man who has always been considered an oddity on the island, he forms an outsider's friendship with Mala. While Tyler slowly gains Mala's trust, readers more clearly see the mosaic that makes up Mala's sad, enigmatic life and come to understand her strange "uncivilized" habits as a form of self-preservation against cruelties endured, including her mother's abandonment, the incestuous relations forced on her by her father and, most haunting of all, the loss (via emigration) of her beloved younger sister. Tyler himself becomes more complex as he reflects on his sexuality. His self-discovery and the secrets of Mala's past might in other hands have become the stuff of melodrama, but Mootoo puts this material to much finer use in a narrative reminiscent of Maryse Conde's work. The seamless plot structure builds to a macabre, satisfying climax and to equally satisfying portraits of two memorable, complex characters against a fascinating, sensuously rendered background. (Sept.) FYI: Cereus Blooms at Night was a finalist for the 1997 Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. One of Mootoo's paintings appears on the cover; she has exhibited her work internationally. She is also a filmmaker.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144621
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Globewriter on November 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
I think I must have read this book about 3 times and each time it weaves a magical web in my mind that takes days to clear. Ms Mootoo manages to take the minutae of life in a time gone by and make them real. Perhaps the book resonates with my own past a bit or perhaps it is just one hell of a well written book. I suspect it both.

Books are, obviously, a matter of personal taste and I know people ( who I bought copies for) who hate this book. I take issue with the reviewer who compares it to The Color Purple though. As far as I know the human condition is sadly limited to a few experiences. One might as well say that any book that writes about falling in and out of love is plagiarizing another. I suspect the only problem with Cereus is that it is such an intimate book..written from such a particular perspective about a particular place that it may not resound with all readers.

One of my friends in Trinidad who grew up in great poverty says that the book takes him back to his childhood and the little comfort corner in his mother's shed - I couldn;t put it better.

I woul also suggest getting her book of poetry..well worth it.

As an Irish born, half-Trinidadian Canadian I love this book....I hope that one day I will have the pleasure of meeting the author.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shampoo Love on March 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
I agree that this book follows the same theme and characters as the Color Purple; however, I think the interesting characters, (especially the narrator) as well as the well imagined island country make up for the lack of originality. I don't know about other people who've read this book, but I thought the Nurse was a great narrator. I haven't come across such a sensitive and observant character in a long time. Also, the issue of incest and sisterhood is so universal that if it does merge with other stories, I don't think that it automatically scuffs off of the Color Purple. If one analyzes literature, most every theme merges together and gets recycled. I enjoyed this book--especially the way it took me away to another time and place.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This story unfolds in many directions and at many levels and provides a creative challenge to the reader to maintain a clear understanding of the various themes. At times a love story, and other times a exploration of sexuality and pedophilia and violence, the book revolves around the history of one woman whom many around her believe mad. The story is set on a fictional tropical island and narrated by a gay male nurse who cares for the woman as an inmate in an alms house. The woman's story unfolds as do the beautiful and powerfully scented Cereus blooms which the author skillfully blends into the evocative and sensual backdrop of the story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By aruna on March 19, 2015
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.

The author weaves a rare magical realism around the eerie life of Maya Ramchandin. The novel begins with the mystery surrounding Maya’s arrival in the alms house - a fragile old woman strapped to the stretcher, feared by all. The mystery only deepens as the nurse assigned to her, Tyler, tries to make sense out of the crazed ways of Maya and figure out the crime she was accused of committing. With every page the pathos of Maya’s life is laid bare - an average child who unwittingly has to pay the price for the acts of her elders- her mother, her aunt and her father. Maya is, abused, deserted and betrayed by family and friends. Traumatised she cuts herself from the world and finds refuge in nature

“..Maya’s companions were the garden birds, insects, snails and reptiles. She and they and the abundant foliage gossiped among themselves. She listened intently. With an ear pressed to the ground she heard ant communities building, transporting food and breeding. She listened to worms coiling arduously from place to place. She knelt on the ground and whispered to the grass and other young plants encouraging them to grow, …”

Isolated Maya becomes an illusion, pople know she exists but no body has seen hernot she has no contact with people . To me, there could not have been a more fitting name for the heroine of this brilliant novel. Maya, in hindi, implies illusion. So much is Maya one with nature that Otoh or the cops fail to discern her presence under the mudra tree. A memorable passage in the novel is the transformed atmosphere of Maya’s garden when the cereus blooms at night. The whole place is abuzz and comes alive. The description is magical and appeals to each of our senses like the Odes of Keat's.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Fitzgerald Fan VINE VOICE on November 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was one of the few out of the many that I've read that is truly charming and exquisite. Mootoo's bravery and unabashed honesty were among just a few of the admirable qualities of this book. I had trouble putting it down at night, even when I had to be up in a few short hours. The characters are crystal-clear and the environment she paints is inspiring to anyone who wishes to write a novel someday. While the book had its heart wrenching moments, it was also full of triumph. Mala Ramchandin (the main character)has a story so rich in detail that you will feel the struggle every step of the way. This novel shines light on every facet of human emotion and it comes highly recommended!
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