Albertine Prize Nominee: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

April 12, 2017 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

Eve Out of Her Ruins has been shortlisted for the Albertine Prize, a reader’s choice award for best contemporary French fiction in English translation. With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in an endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend; Saadiq, a gifted would-be poet in love with Eve; and Clélio, a belligerent rebel waiting for his brother to send for him from France. Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Deep Vellum). Vote for the Albertine Prize through April 30th! 

An Excerpt from Eve Out of Her Ruins

Pencil. Eraser. Ruler. Paper. Gum. I played blind man’s bluff with the things I wanted. I was a child, but not entirely. I was twelve years old. I shut my eyes and held out my hand. My fingers closed on air. I shivered in my thin clothes. I thought everything was within reach. I made moonlight shine in the boys’ eyes. I believed I had powers.

Pencil. Eraser. Ruler. I held out my hand because in my bag there was nothing.  I went to school completely and totally empty. I felt some kind of pride in not having anything. People can be rich even in having nothing.

Because I was small, because I was thin, because my arms and my legs were as straight as a child’s drawing, the bigger boys protected me. They gave me what I wanted. They thought a gust of wind would tip me over like a paper boat with a leak in its side.

I was a paper boat. Water seeped into my sides, my stomach, my legs, my arms. I didn’t know it. I thought I was strong. I weighed up my chances. Assessed every moment. I knew how to ask without seeming to.

Pencil, eraser, ruler, it didn’t matter. The boy’s gave me things. Their faces softened slightly, and that changed everything, it made them look human. And then, one day, when I asked without seeming to, they asked me for something in return.

I thought it would be simple, it would be easy. What could they want in return? I was the smallest one, the least important one. Everyone knew I had nothing. For once, they were saying I had something. My bag held many nothings: the nothingness of my apartment, smaller and more bare than everyone else’s; the empty nothingness of our wardrobes; even those of our trash cans. There was the nothing of my father’s eye, which alcohol had turned oily. The nothing that was my mother’s mouth and eyelids, both of them stapled shut. I had nothing, nothing at all to give.

But I was mistaken.

He wanted a piece of me.

He dragged me off to a corner of the playground, behind a huge Indian almond tree, he pinned me against the tree’s trunk, and he slipped his hand under my T-shirt. I was wearing a red T-shirt, with a soccer player’s name on it. I don’t remember who anymore. His hand stopped at my breasts, slowly moved up and down, just over the small black points. There was hardly anything there. I heard other children shouting and playing. They seemed far away. It was another world. The boy had slipped his other hand in. His skin turned blotchy. His cheek was hot. He took his time, even though he was scared. But I didn’t feel anything. I was out of my body. It was apart from me.

That day, he didn’t ask me for anything else. He gave me an eraser, or a pencil, or a notebook, I don’t remember. His lips came close to my ear. The next time, he said, we’ll try something else.

I shrugged, but I stared with some curiosity at his eyes. They had a silver sheen like melted sugar. As if he had been erased. Now he only existed through his hands. Now he only existed through me.

For the first time my bag was no longer empty. I had something I could pay with: myself.

I could buy. Exchange myself for what I needed. Exchange morsels, bits, various parts of my body. I looked brazenly at the taller boys when school was let out. You want to see something? I asked them. They laughed and said, Go away, there’s nothing to see. But then they looked at me a long while and my eyes told them something else. I knew how to do it. Someone else slipped fluidly into my gaze, someone completely separate from my bony body. I refused to be small or weak. I contradicted myself. That changed everything. They stopped breathing. They flowed into the shadows on my face. They left caresses there, a slime of desire that oozed down my right cheek. They, the bigger boys, had something else to give me in returns: books, calculators, CDs. All I gave them was the shadow of a body.

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