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Cereus Blooms at Night [Paperback]

Shani Mootoo
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 28 1998
Bold and lyrical, sensual and highly charged, Cereus Blooms at Night is the beautifully written, much-talked-about first novel by Shani Mootoo, one of Canada’s most exciting new literary voices.

At the core of this haunting multi-generational novel are the shifting faces of Mala – adventurer and protector, recluse, and madwoman. Related by the engaging voice of Tyler, Mala’s vivacious male caretaker at the Paradise Alms House, Cereus Blooms at Night is layered with unforgettable scenes of a world where love and treachery collide.

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From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars The Color Purple, anyone? Dec 8 1999
Well, if Puff Daddy and Will Smith can make millions and earn critical acclaim by reusing other artists' songs, then I guess writers should be able to make millions and earn critical acclaim by rewriting other writers' stories.
I read this book almost a year ago and don't have it with me, so forgive me if I can't make specific references. I began CEREUS with high hopes. But something began scratching me at the back of the neck about halfway through. And then I had it! Sisters, each protective of the other. One bolder and less inclined to just accept her lot in life. Abusive, rapist father. Hmmmm... Gay and lesbian themes. Runaway sister, lost to the other. Missing, then recovered letters. !
Alice Walker's THE COLOR PURPLE, anyone?
CEREUS was a decent story; its descriptions were lush and lovely; and it was worth reading, but come on. Give me a break. If you can't come up with an original idea for your book, at least don't plagiarize a Pulitzer Prize-winner.
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4.0 out of 5 stars If you want to escape to another place and time... March 16 2000
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A Soul With Butterfly Wings Nov. 7 2001
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Strange and evocative tale Jan. 6 1999
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A very attractive and provocative look at sexuality March 24 1999
In this novel the characters are not what they appear at first glance, a male nurse has sexual issues to deal with, another character wills herself to be a man, and the main protagonist is sexually abused by her father. The novel is very intricate and yet simple in its ability to make us look within ourselves for the strenght to endure life's hardships and to also downplay the effect of other's criticisms of how we have chosen to live.
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