Cereus Blooms at Night
by Shani Mootoo
Mystery, intrigue, rape, desperation, hidden secrets….. this book has it and is written in beautiful prose. The book, Cereus Blooms at Night, by Shani Mootoo, begins with the end and the author brings us to the sordid past – it reminds me of the technique used in Fried Green Tomatoes. Mala Ramchandin, viewed as a crazy elderly woman, is brought to a nursing home by the local authorities after she is found innocent of a murder in her own home. What we don’t know is what actually happened. The story-teller, Tyler, is a recently hired nurse at the paradise Alms House. He is given no real work projects, but, when Mala arrives, he has the opportunity to be her private nurse. The rest of the book gives Mala’s history and how the dead body ended in her home. Mala was raised by her abusive father (Chandin) after her mother (Sarah) ran off with her friend and lover (Lavina), who happened to be the woman her father loved. When her mother escaped the home, she tried taking her two daughters, but they were stopped when her father returned home from work early that day. Chandin was raised by Lavina’s parents, and grew up as her brother. The story unfolds with great detail and in a chronological flow, piece by piece. Mala’s love interest as a young girl is also revealed and the role he plays in all that has unfolded. The mystery is revealed as to whom the dead body is and how it got there. Love, friendship, homosexuality, incest, rape and guilt are all entwined in the story. It’s a relatively quick read and also shows that people are complicated as is jealousy. Add in the annual bloom of the cereus plant and you have a “tight” story that fits very nicely together.