Eve walks by, her hair like foamy night, in her skin-tight jeans, and the others snigger and suck in their teeth in lust, but I – I just want to kneel down. She doesn’t look at us. She isn’t afraid of us. She has her solitude for armor.
Saad is one of the four teen-aged narrators who take turns telling us about their lives and interconnected friendships in the poor, gang-ridden Troumaron neighborhood of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. In Troumaron, “one day we wake up and the future has disappeared.” Saad, who worships Eve, has also fallen under the spell of Rimbaud and writes poetry on the walls of his room at home. Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins is a novel of conversations, emotions, aspirations, and setbacks. Forget where it takes place or the nationality of the author. This is a novel of haunting language with a powerful message about gender and violence.
Eve is the remarkable character at the center of Eve Out of Her Ruins. She is constructed from the different perspectives of Devi’s four narrators – the poet Saad, Clélio, who has already been to prison for his misdeeds, Savika, a young woman who is determined to give Eve her unquestioning love, and Eve herself. Eve is a student by day and prostitute by night. At home her father upbraids and beats her while her mother (“a small pile of shame”) weakly sits by. For years, boys and men have had their way with Eve. But Eve thinks she has found a way to avoid the fate that seems to await her and her friends. She has developed a kind of mind/body separation that allows her to think she is using the men who use her 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 time 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.
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 juts a body. It can be fixed. That’s what it’s for.
But Saad, Clélio, and Savika see a different Eve. As Savika puts it, “It hurts me to see her so fragile when she thinks she’s so strong.” When Savika meets Eve at school, she knows instantly what she must do.
I went weak. I was riveted by her sadness. Through the open doors of her sides, her life was escaping. I had to console her, take her in my arms like a mother or a lover, and make her forget, however briefly, why she was shaking.
Savika and Eve build a bond that is safe, loving, and beyond men. Here is Eve on their first kiss:
The taste of her mouth wasn’t at all like those of men. It was so gentle that I closed my eyes and savored it like candied papaya.
Outside the purview of men, we became happy, playful, for a few minutes.
Eve Out of Her Ruins delves into the seemingly innate differences between the sexes. As Eve puts it, “The two sexes don’t have the same heritage. We’re not born with the same burdens.”
What do men give in exchange for a body? They don’t give their own body; a man has to take. They protect themselves. They watch their shadows. We’re butterflies caught in a net, even at our most exultant, even at our most resistant. We’re stolen bodies.
Eve knows that the danger men pose to women arises from man’s need to possess. “Men’s hands take hold of you before even having touched you. Once their thoughts turn toward you, they’ve already possessed you.”
But Eve’s attempt to carefully control her life spins out of control when Savita is brutally murdered, her body dumped into a trash bin.
Saad, the poet, even though he, too, belongs to a gang out of self-preservation, can step out of his gender and see the ugly tendencies that men can have. He realizes that some men “are monsters hidden behind ordinary appearances.” And, looking at Eve, he “can understand why she couldn’t say I love you to a man.” In the end, it is only Saad who seems to have a path out of the ruins through his poetry. “I write in order to not go crazy.”
Eve Out of Her Ruins is yet another impressive book from Dallas’ Deep Vellum Publishing. and London’s CB Editions. Jeffrey Zuckermann did the translation from the 2006 French original Éve des ses décombres. Devi’s book was made into a French-language film titled Les Enfants de Troumaron in 2012. Two different versions of the trailer can be seen on YouTube and on Vimeo.