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Cereus Blooms at Night

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,729 Ratings  ·  137 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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Eric Gulliver
May 21, 2007 Eric Gulliver rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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
Sarah Sammis
Oct 11, 2007 Sarah Sammis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: released, borrowed
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
I am having an eminently hard time trying to marshal my thoughts on this book into something coherent for the written word.
It did not leave me with an obvious reason for liking it, at least not one that I can articulate with a specific set of words.

Despite it's less than palatable story matter, this is a beautiful tale. The author has a deft touch with words and description. Rather than being upset by the story or angry at ineffective characters, I ended the book with a hopeful though sad feel
May 17, 2015 Khadija rated it it was amazing
arghhhh I don't even know where to begin. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. It's the most depressing book I've ever read but omg the diction that is used in this book is soo beautiful :')
May 16, 2015 Kamil rated it it was amazing
Nov 20, 2009 marissa rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
Jun 11, 2015 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although the story was both compelling and harrowing, and Mootoo's prose was very fine, the odd structure and some passages that lagged kept this from being a 5 star read for me. Even though a short novel, it could have been pruned even more. But it's nice that in a book with only a dozen or so characters, there are two lesbians, a gay man and a FTM transgender character.
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
Nov 14, 2009 Shane rated it it was amazing
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
Kristine Morris
Jun 22, 2015 Kristine Morris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
I decided to let the reading of this novel percolate a bit before writing a few comments. Sometimes my initial impressions improve after thinking a bit more about a book. Not so in this case. Part 1 of the book is very engaging, mostly because of the character Tyler who despite trying hard not to interject himself into the novel, keeps doing exactly that. The main character, Mala, is a very distant character. Because of her mental state, she communicates very subtlety with Tyler, not directly wi ...more
Maayan K
Jun 01, 2015 Maayan K rated it really liked it
A sensory experience. I really loved the setting, in the Trinidad-like Caribbean island of Lantanacamara in the town of Paradise. The smells and tastes, plants and bugs, form an important backdrop, but also important thematic material. Blossoming and decay each take their turn.

Fluid gender/sexuality, as well as sexual violence, trauma, love, and insanity all have a role here. Despite the heavy topics, the book is a pretty fast read, and not really a downer. The plot is simple and perfect, the c
Dec 15, 2015 Chaneli rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, lgbt
this book fills me with so much love! the narrative structure definitely reminds me of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. The language in this novel is very beautiful but with a very painful story attached. We follow the main character Mala as we get to know her childhood and how she ended up where she is in the beginning of the novel. The book discusses religion, sexual abuse, nature, love, trauma, family, sexuality, gender, etc. One of my favorite moments is the connection to nature and ...more
Oct 11, 2013 Arielle rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 17, 2009 Jackie rated it liked it
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
Randi Abel
Mar 05, 2015 Randi Abel rated it really liked it
What a book! There is just so much in there I don't know where to begin. I LOVED all the queer characters. Utterly refreshing to see so many characters in one book who challenge heteronormativity. It was just really difficult to read because it is so tragic, traumatizing, and sad. But sometimes life can be those things and Shani Mootoo has represented them adeptly.
C. Kimmi
Apr 07, 2016 C. Kimmi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2014
Words cannot begin to describe how touched, heartbroken and healed this book leaves me each time I've read and re-read it.

I only wish I had found it at 14. I grew up yearning for books that spoke of real horrors, real love and real Caribbean magics like this one.
Laurie Byro
Oct 14, 2016 Laurie Byro rated it liked it
High marks for the writing and low for the subject matter, it seems like this would be a perfect choice for an Oprah pick, depressing, almost exploiting in that it is a Caribbean folk tale with a twist of incest, class struggle and all messages bottled up into one messy read. I wanted to like it more than I did, an impressive first book, but again, as with all oprah books someone has to have a good day somewhere. I can't even describe why i didn't give it higher marks, but again, look at my book ...more
(Review originally posted on my livejournal account: x

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
Jan 06, 2012 Aurina rated it liked it
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
May 29, 2011 Vasha7 rated it liked it
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
Laura Rodd
Mar 25, 2012 Laura Rodd rated it did not like it
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
Lisa Hutchinson
Nov 02, 2010 Lisa Hutchinson rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2009 Courtney rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 19, 2013 Nicole rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2009 Emily rated it did not like it
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
Tessara Dudley
Nov 29, 2015 Tessara Dudley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: favourites
This book was a glorious, if at times difficult, read. I would have appreciated some content warnings before I read it, so I offer my own upfront: this book deals with domestic violence and child sexual abuse, and though the language is distant, it was still very disturbing.

That said, the treatment of queerness in Cereus Blooms at Night is refreshing. Beyond USian conceptions of queerness, Mootoo presents a layered queerness, one not wholly bound up in gender or sexuality, but also comprised of
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
(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
Dec 31, 2008 Lindi rated it really liked it
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
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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.” 3 likes
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