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Cereus Blooms at Night

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,268 ratings  ·  190 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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3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,268 ratings  ·  190 reviews

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Sarah Sammis
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrowed, released
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
Claire McAlpine
Cereus Blooms at Night is the partially told story of one woman’s life, beginning when she is admitted to an alms house, suspected of having murdered her father and slowly unravelling back to the turning points, the highs and lows which brought her to be in the state she is in on arrival.

It is a novel narrated in parts, each part focusing on a character(s) who were influential in her life, including the young man who never knew her until this day, the one who became her confidant, perhaps the fi
Eric Gulliver
Apr 05, 2007 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
marissa  sammy
Aug 04, 2009 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
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
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 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: qtipoc, ny-book-club
Most well-written, without being over-written, and enjoyable-but-challenging book I've read in a long time: "When Pohpoh unlatched the window above the enamel sink, yellow light sliced through the opening, hauling in a cold, fresh morning draught."

A unique fictional perspective, uniquely and beautifully expressed.
May 03, 2015 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 :')
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
This is a beautiful story about tough subject matter. It covers a lot of subject matter about sexuality, abuse, mental health, and ultimately love. The story starts out with an elderly woman being brought to a care home and everyone is afraid of her. Through her flashbacks to the past we find out more about her life, and the events that brought her to where she is. It takes place in a fictional country in the Caribbean, but really the story could have taken place anywhere.

This book is on the CB
May 22, 2015 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.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Content note for this book: sexual abuse, domestic violence
It's hard to say much about this story without giving away important plot points, but in short, it is the story of Mala, an old woman who is well known in her fictional Caribbean community as the local madwoman, and now believed to be possibly a murderer, who is taken into an almshouse, and there forms a relationship with Nurse Tyler, who we might describe as gender queer or on the trans spectrum. He and Mala bond over their shared exper
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved hearing the Trini in the writing!
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: caribbean, lgbtqia, drama
I liked this book a lot, though it had numerous flaws that frustrated me.

I'll start with the good. I loved the cast of main characters, all strong and vivid in their own way. It just always makes me feel good to see queer characters in a Caribbean setting. (And fictional island or no, this is a very Caribbean novel; Lantanacamara is clearly based on Trinidad.) I really loved Tyler, I think he was the perfect character to tell Ms. Ramchandin's story. I loved his gentleness, his caring nature, his
Jun 29, 2009 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
Jun 05, 2009 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
Kristine Morris
Jun 03, 2015 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
Oct 10, 2008 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
Katya Kazbek
Perhaps it has to do with my love of Truman Capote’s “Other rooms, other voices”, or with all these childhood’s humid stories of climbing overgrowth and omnipresent critters that so often fall under southern gothic that I get an extra kick whenever I encounter isolated children living among animals in dense flora in the novels I read. Give me that set-up, and I’ll love the book to death. Shani Mootoo’s novel and I were an instant match, but I would recommend this novel even if you have less feve ...more
Maayan K
Oct 29, 2014 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 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt, favorites
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
Megan Baxter
Nov 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I am sort of at a loss for how to write this review. I wanted to like Cereus Blooms at Night, but I found it curiously weightless. I can see what it's striving for, but as far as I'm concerned, it never comes near to reaching it. It's hard to put your finger on what exactly is missing, but it feels like it's ticking a lot of the literature checkboxes, without ever doing anything more to become a living breathing urgent tale.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Go
Sep 11, 2012 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 09, 2009 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
I appreciated the Caribbean vibe, but may we please have a book where the central plotline does not involve rape and incest? So tired of violence against women as entertainment.

The characters: Mala and Asha, and their associates and kin set us up for a wonderful postcolonial whodunit...and then the lazy and inexplicably misogynistic turn toward the rape/incest plotline. Really? So disappointed, especially since I explicitly chose it for its Caribbean author.

Oh well
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
When I read this book I wasn't sure what to expect, but was very surprised when I finished. The story is very strong and has a lot of emotions in it. The story of Mala's life is hard and her abusive father doesn't make it any easier in her and her little sister.

The way the author used her on life experience for her story makes you even think more about sexual and mental abuse. I believe the book is a perfect way to make people aknowledge the problem.
Randi Abel
Mar 03, 2015 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  Ramnine
Oct 27, 2014 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.
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This multiple award nominee from the mid-1990s was not familiar to me until I found it on the "100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian" CBC list. Like many books on that list, this one is Canadian-ish, in that Mootoo was born in Ireland, grew up in Trinidad and at the time of publication was dividing her time between Canada (Vancouver) and the States. This novel is entirely set in the Caribbean (Trinidad, I assume). However, the original publisher was Canadian (Press Gang Publications). Th ...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.
“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.” 4 likes
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