Cereus Blooms at Night
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Cereus Blooms at Night

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  1,026 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Set on a fictional Caribbean island in the town of Paradise, Cereus Blooms at Night unveils the mystery surrounding Mala Ramchandin and the tempestuous history of her family. At the heart of this bold and seductive novel is an alleged crime committed many years before the story opens. Mala is the reclusive old woman suspected of murder who is delivered to the Paradise Alms...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published October 1st 1996)
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Sarah Sammis
Cereus Blooms at Night is one of the most powerful and thought provoking books I've read this year. I wish I had finished it before the BTT question last week about obscenity in literature because it makes a good argument for when explicit scenes are needed in a book to tell a story.

Shani Mootoo wastes no words in Cereus Blooms at Night. Everything has a meaning and often more than one. The cereus of the title both refer to the cactus that grows in Mala's yard and to Mala's brief moment of true...more
Shane
In Shani Mootoo’s novel “everyone wants to be someone they are not” – just like the unassuming Cereas flowers that bloom at night into something phenomenal. Thus all the character’s have alter ego’s – Mala has her child personality Pohpoh, Otoh was once a girl and is now becoming a man but not quite, narrator Tyler discovers that he is gay and likes to cross-dress, Ambrose goes from a sleepy man to an energetic force after he is released from his guilt.

The tale of incest, child abuse and mansla...more
Madeline
Here's the thing about Cereus Blooms at Night: it is almost achingly transparently a first novel. Metaphors of all kinds announce themselves again and again and again. The social points are stated kind of obviously (though they are themselves sensitive and perceptive points). The plot, although amorphous, is firmly rooted in one event - but that event is not firmly rooted in anything; rather it happens because it needs to happen in order to allow the rest of the book to happen. (Which, by the wa...more
Eric Gulliver
I read this book for a class entitled "Literature of the Asian Diaspora." It was under the auspices that I read and analyzed the text.
Cereus Blooms At Night is a story of the visceral experience (and present condition) of Mala Ramchandin. The setting is a fictional island called Paradise located somewhere in the Caribbean. As Nurse Tyler cares for Mala Ramchandin, her condition is viewed as insanity as she merely interacts with insects and audibly speaks to herself. The backstory of the novel is...more
marissa
Nov 20, 2009 marissa rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anybody interested in stories about strength and survival
I grew up in Trinidad, so it's clear to me that Shani Mootoo is using Trinidad as the basis of her setting of Lantanacamara. Although I wondered initially why she fictionalized the setting, after reading the book I realized that it might be an effort to keep people from assuming that "this is what life is like in Trinidad" -- so hey, good choice there, Shani Mootoo.

But even more than her visceral evocation of the West Indies, Mootoo is notable as a writer who is not afraid to delve into the dirt...more
Jackie
This book made me angry. Characters saw the tragedy occuring in their town but none of them did anything until it was too late, including the main character, Mala. Asha was the only sensible person in the whole book. But, I think that is what the book is about, closing ones eyes to hurt (abuse, racism, colonialism), doing nothing about it and the consequences.

The story was interesting and powerful. I loved the imagery. (The whole reason I picked up this book was because I have night-blooming cer...more
Lisa Hutchinson
When I embarked on "Cereus Blooms at Night" at 7:44 am, my pores were thrusted to surface by the luminous and mellifluous language used by the narrator Nurse Tyler. As an artist, I truly appreciated the colourful and scented details that Mootoo wasted no time using. Though magically written- with reference for the numerous blossoms, cereus plants, insects, scented breeze and soulful snails to name a few- the story line for all the characters is devastatingly sad. This Paradise of Lantanacamara i...more
Aurina
In Cereus Blooms at Night, Mala Ramchandin, the novel's protagonist, is the subject of malicious rumours in the small Carribbean island she calls home. Tried for being a dangerous murderer, she eventually finds herself at a home for the elderly. Old and decidedly crazy, the horrifically tragic truth about Mala unravels as she is befriended by Tyler, a male nurse, with a secret of his own. The two misfits find solace in each other, and despite Mala's inability to communicate, Tyler is emboldened...more
Emily
This was a beautifully-written novel about rape, oppressive gender roles, and colonialism, which all intertwine as metaphors for each other ("The Crying Game", anyone?). Although the literary concept works and the prose is exquisitely descriptive, I wished it wasn't while I was reading vividly graphic incest/rape scenes. I accept that this topic needs to be discussed, even in graphic detail, so that survivors have resources and the subject becomes less taboo, but I worry that feminist authors to...more
Vasha7
I read this book over the course of about three days. The generally smoothly written story, in spite of some problems of organization which betray a first novel, drew me through it. In spite of some terrible scenes of family violence (I admit that sometimes I skimmed this) it is not a depressing story at all. Mootoo does seem to to hesitate a bit awkwardly between realism and the fanciful, both in the depiction of the island of Lantanacamara and in the lives of her characters.

Although I liked Ty...more
Courtney
Extracted from my blog, written just after completing this book:

Amidst the twisted plot filled with a defiance of, what Arundhati Roy describes as "the love laws that lay down who we should love and how much," the reader is exposed to different sets of circumstances that demand judgement. This judgement that the reader subconsciously makes is later deconstructed along with society's ideas of "should" and "should not." Throughout the novel, tortured souls practice forgiveness of pasts speckled li...more
Nicole
This book is a top shelf favourite. The voice of the narrator (Tyler) hooks you from the first page and carries you through the majority of the story. At certain points focalisation is through other characters and while I found the transitions to be seamless, I did prefer the p.o.v of Tyler. The writing didn't disappoint at all and the characters were rich and well fleshed out. Elements of rape and incest were disturbing but they were an integral part of the protagonist's journey and I felt the...more
Laura Rodd
I absolutely loathed this book. I was really excited about the reviews, "Shani Mootoo’s haunting debut took the international literary world by storm. A Book Sense selection and a finalist for the Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Cereus Blooms at Night is an exquisite cross-generational history filled with thrilling passion and alluring mystery. Set in the fictional Caribbean town of Paradise, Cereus Blooms at Night unveils the mys...more
Michelle
(Review originally posted on my livejournal account: xhttp://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/...)

Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature class.

I had never heard of this book before finding out it was an assigned text for one of my classes, which is kind of sad because this was written by a Canadian author (though she was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad before immigrating to Canada.) It apparently received a lot of critical acclaim when it first came out, b...more
J
(FROM JACKET)Set on a fictional Caribbean island in the town of Paradise, "Cereus Blooms at Night" unveils the mystery surrounding Mala Ramchandin and the tempestuous history of her family. At the heart of this bold and seductive novel is an alleged crime committed many years before the story opens. Mala is the aging, notoriously crazt woman suspected of murder who is delivered to the Paradise Alms House after a judge finds her unfit to stand trial. When she arrives at her new home, frail and mu...more
Parallax
The book goes back and forth in time and narrators about the life of Mala Ramchandin, an insane elderly woman accused of murder on the fictional Carribean island of Lantanacamara. It does indeed address diaspora/post-colonialism, race, gender, and queerness and all that weighty stuff I'd heard it was supposed to contain. Definitely thought provoking and a heavy read (or it could have just been the incest themes addressed), but now I'm ready to read something lighter or incest free.

One of the pa...more
Lindi
I love putting holds on books at the library and then being surprised when they come in. I have no idea why I requested this book, but I am so glad. It is a beautifully written novel, with astonishing characters. Shocking and violent, tender and sweet, occasionally funny, more often sad; it is the story of Mala Ramchandin, a woman who copes with the unbearable by detaching herself from reality. She's helped to reconnect by Otoh, a young person who has willed herself to be a man; Tyler, her gay n...more
Robert Podolsky
This book has elements that I just don't enjoy in my reading, including rape and violence. While the book accurately portrays people in an abusive relationship, I just don't enjoy reading such things. At the same time, I very much felt that the main character was well developed, and I kept reading to see what would happen with her. Unfortunately, I don't think all of the characters are as well developed. During the first half of the book, we begin to learn more about the narrator, and the narrat...more
Danny Lindsay
Wow. Just finished this a few minutes ago. What a payoff. This novel is almost cloyingly mysterious for 200 pages but then everything is revealed in a completely horrifying yet satisfying manner. One scene made my body shudder involuntarily (it never does that) and my skin crawl (it NEVER does that). Be careful. There is true evil in this book. But also true beauty. I can't give it full marks because of the glacial pace in the first half but I really want to. I might even come back in a few week...more
Caseythecanadianlesbrarian
A few months ago when I reviewed Shani Mootoo’s most recent novel, Valmiki’s Daughter, I prefaced the review with an admission that I already loved Mootoo’s writing before I even started the book. It was her first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), that instigated this love. The worth of something as rich as Cereus would be hard to overestimate. I’ve honestly never read anything that had such a strong sensory effect on me: the lilting rhythm of the language, the bittersweetness of the narrati...more
Ryan
It was easier to read this book in my 30's compared to my first read in my 20's. I think my accumulated life experience helped me appreciate the subtleties of this book thereby transcending the violent and deplorable episodes that overshadowed my attention during the first read through. PohPoh is a brilliantly strong and complex character that drives this narrative home and gives substance to reflections on family and identity. This books seems to claim that we are all unique monsters trying to...more
Michael Greenwell
It is difficult to create sweet without allowing the dubious scent of saccharine to invade your creation, but Shani Mootoo masterfully interweaves her hope with sorrow, and thus presents a tantalizing slice of humanity, with the sadness of shortcomings barely overcome by joy of possibility. The damaged characters that inhabit the surreal setting of Paradise, Lantacamara are a study in anti-heroes, with limited viewpoints and broken spirits, and yet the subtle acts of preserverence and desperatio...more
Jessica
Dec 03, 2008 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jessica by: Feminist Book Club
This was a pleasant way to spend the day after Thanksgiving. Simple, languid prose made it a quick read, and the characters and plot made it an engaging one. Mootoo offers unconventional characters but treats them as people, not tokens. She creates just the right mixture of odd, tragic, mundane, and wonderful for the plot to feel real. If you're in the mood for an airplane novel but can't take the stereotypes and the drivel that come with such a mindless read, this is the perfect substitute. It'...more
Sierra
Sep 26, 2007 Sierra rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: people who like to read, folks interested in the intersection of gender and postcolonialism
This is Shani Mootoo's first novel, and I would pull out all of my teeth if it would help me produce a debut of such beauty and significance. I'm having trouble writing about it; it's deeply sad, and you feel so much for the characters that it seems wrong to try to parse their betrayals and disappointments. Mootoo's sense of people in all their complexity and diversity is astounding; there's even a burgeoning romance, similar to the one that rounds out Stone Butch Blues, between two gender varia...more
Arielle
Cereus Blooms at Night is essentially a fairytale about coping with trauma. The trauma of lost love, rape, colonialism, forced assimilation, mental illness, self mutilation, and homophobia. Which is to say, this is a very graphically violent, very hard to read book. But in all the darkness there's some hope in the form of magic, witches, and the healing powers of nature, as an antidote to white christian colonial patriarchy. I thought the writing was amazing and I also think this book would make...more
Heather
This is an incredible fictional book about the intimate story of a mentally ill elderly woman who lives for decades never leaving her house, a place full of decay, darkness, ridiculous amounts of clutter, and secrets, but also teeming with the life of all the insects, snails, birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants that she encourages to take over not only her yard but also the interior of her home. It is the story of the tragedies of her life that brought her to that point, told from the perspecti...more
Lesliemae
Aug 09, 2008 Lesliemae rated it 2 of 5 stars Recommends it for: those interested in entomology
Recommended to Lesliemae by: Andrew Lesk
Transgendered Otoh, homosexual/transgendered Nurse Tyler, and an background story that unravels the horrors of colonial influence upon an imaginary place in the Caribbean.

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After finishing this book at 9am on a Wednesday morning I moved slowly while considering my next actions for the day. I felt like music and cooking. I played Bach, Beethoven, Ravel and made an omlette. It was what I needed to shake me out of the feelings of a wasted life by the end of the book. Will to live with pur...more
Scott Smith
Eh, not really my favorite, but certainly not bad. People say that it uses the same sort of "magical realism" that Marquez uses in Hundred Years of Solitude, but I certainly don't see it, and comparing this to that book will end poorly for Mootoo.
The subject deals with the performativity of gender roles and murder and trauma and nature, etc. Not bad topics but there were some rhetorical issues that irritated me and I think compromised some the arguments Mootoo was trying to make.
But it was enjo...more
Sheena
This novel is a beautiful piece of fiction. The characters are so layered and complex that you could not possibly "hear" everything Mootoo has to say about gender, sexuality, religion and post-colonialism is one reading. The story is set in a fictional colony called Lantanacamara and centres around a mysterious woman called Mala, who has arrived at the local nursing home. Tyler, Mala's caregiver, narrates Mala's story while telling his own, showing how they are connected. I loved this novel for...more
Mary-Beth
The style of the writing is extremely engaging. Part of the reason I didn't fully enjoy the novel is (I admit it openly) that the subject matter is very depressing. The other part is an uneasy feeling I have about some of the characters in the novel. The main character Pohpoh, or Mala is the best character in the novel, but many of the other characters feel excessive to me. They seem to embody one characteristic to the exclusion of everything else in a way I find unrealistic and unsettling.
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Shani Mootoo, writer, visual artist and video maker, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1957 to Trinidadian parents. She grew up in Trinidad and relocated at age 24 to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
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“I brought my face inches away from hers and whispered, 'If I were strapped like that, I would hate it, too.' And then I felt foolish, for what was the point of empathizing without taking more positive action? I wanted to touch her again but I left and returned to my room feeling impoverished and weak.” 1 likes
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