Gunesekera’s tale about a doomed colonial love affair

The Prisoner of Paradise by Romesh Gunesekera: review

An evocative tale of a doomed colonial love affair

In spite of their beauty, and their fascinating créolité, the Mascarene Islands rarely feature in literature. The Prisoner of Paradise is set in Mauritius, home to the allegorical 18th-century French novel Paul et Virginie. Bernardin de St Pierre’s tragedy provides the crude template for Romesh Gunesekera’s new novel.

Mauritius is best known to most British readers as a brash holiday playground. But its history is a subtle thing, derived from successive waves of adventurers, planters, administrators, slaves and traders from Africa, India, Europe and the Arab world.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Gunesekera may have assumed that an Indian Ocean island would provide an environment with which he was familiar. It’s 1825, and the prim but feisty Lucy Gladwell is fresh off the boat from England, coming to stay with her jingoistic uncle in the newly British colony of Mauritius. She is captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of the tropics on this island “where you can hear the surf beat upon the beach to an iambic   beat”.

Thrust into the provincial society of Port Louis, where French and English mix uncomfortably in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, Lucy grows up fast.   Gunesekera revels in the evils of colonial exploitation, evidence of what he calls the Europeans’ “cruelty [which] comes easily to the alienated soul”.

Lucy is a fanciful creature fond of poetry, who brings with her an anachronistic sense of disapproval of her uncle’s racism, and a portmanteau of gauche feminist attitudes. She soon falls in love with the exotic Don Lambodar, an exiled Ceylonese translator “with lips the colour of mulled wine”. In this world, the dark-skinned victims are wise and tolerant, the Europeans rapacious, exploitative and boorish. It’s that simple.

Read complete article @ The Telegraph

Read of him Heaven’s Edge. Great writer.

~ by eneryvibes on 1,February 15, 2012.

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