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Cereus Blooms at Night

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,376 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Bold and lyrical, sensual and highly charged, Cereus Blooms at Night is the beautifully written, much-talked-about first novel by Shani Mootoo, one of Canada’s most exciting new literary voices.

At the core of this haunting multi-generational novel are the shifting faces of Mala – adventurer and protector, recluse, and madwoman. Related by the engaging voice of Tyler, Mala’
Paperback, 280 pages
Published March 28th 1998 by Emblem Editions (first published October 1st 1996)
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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
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
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
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
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
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 20, 2009 marissa rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Sorayya Khan
This novel is thick and lush with sensuality, sexuality, violence, brutality, flowers, pain and love. It's the most detailed depiction of place, albeit an imaginary Caribbean location, than I've read in a long while. The storyline is heartbreaking and achingly sad, although we don't understand the depths of the sorrow until the mystery of the tragedies unfolds. In the midst of so much pain, there is also love that's beautifully conveyed, if still impossible. It also contains the single best fare ...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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
Tatiana Alejandra de Castro Pérez
This novel is a very intense and hard one to read. Not because its style, that is quite easy to read and is enjoyable to find out what has happened, but because of what is done by some characters. However, I couldn't stop reading the last hundred pages to find out how Mala arrived to her present situation and if she is going to meet her sister again. A hard one but also a beautiful one to read.

Una lectura muy intensa que tuve que intercalar con numerosos cómics por lo duro de los hechos presenta
(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
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
Randi Abel
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.
To quote Gayatri Gopinath, "queerness is to heterosexuality as diaspora to the nation."

In terms of postcolonial novel, cool. In terms of (South) Asian Diaspora, alright. In terms of child abuse and sex, graphic. In terms of queer novel, now that's where probably my opinion would differ from the lots of other readers. I do not find the queer representation here to be as queer as people say it is. This novel's stance of queerness is problematized by ((spoiler)) the island's acceptance of Otoh's as
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
I'm reviewing the last seven months worth of books right now, and I have basic notes on author/date finished/number of stars, but that's it, so forgive me if these next several dozen reviews are perfunctory/lacking in detail/vague!

Cereus takes place on a fictional Caribbean island, in I-forget-what-decade. It's literary but readable and engaging, with a couple likable/sympathetic characters. It contains scenes with explicit and traumatizing sexual violence, so if you can't read that stuff, stay
My dislike is not due to the author's writing skills so much as to the story in itself.. I just loath with a passion the character of Chandin Ramchandin to the point where it disables me to judge the actual story in an objective light. I abhor the man and the very idea of the possibility of his existence. Hence the story which birthed him.
Mallee Stanley
The mystery surrounding Mala Ramchandin when she enters Paradise nursing home kept me spellbound through this well written book. It is a sad tale dealing with cross gender issues, child exploitation as well as inaction. The characters are believable and I was lost in the story after the first few pages.
Mina Khan
This is a dark and intriguing literary fiction. You start with an elderly woman who's admitted to a psychiatric care facility and then you discover the story bit by bit as you read: incest, love, murder. My reading experience was akin to solving a mystery. Complex story.
Lily Forsythe
I thought it was beautifully written and rich with various interpretations, but if I didn't have to read it for school I would have put it down unfinished due to the numerous graphic and violent scenes that were too dark for me to stomach. So, trigger warning!
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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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