Vinod Busjeet’s Debut Establishes an Origin Story on the Island of Mauritius


So, we have our share. Yet as the plot unfolds in a relatively regular pattern—A, then B, then C—with some jumps in time and poetic breaks, Vishnu never seems to be meaningfully preoccupied with these risks; Things simply happen and we move on. Through dialogue, we learn about the family’s ancestral fall from grace, impromptu comments on pigmentation and the Anglicization of names, and astonishing fascination with local remnants of French and British colonists. However, neither the dialogue nor the narration gives room for the internality of the characters.

This absence is most jarring when the narrator approaches issues of colonialism, class, or race as if they were neither good nor bad, but just life itself. Busjeet shows no reaction from Vishnu when Vishnu’s father tells a family friend that “he thinks an English name suits his skin tone better”; The next sentence moves to another scene. When we glimpse their thoughts, they often lack depth. When Vishnu’s Mauritian friends predicted his future success, “I smiled but didn’t know what to say,” says Vishnu. “Of course, my goal was to succeed among the elite. I was proud, but what if I let them down?”

If there is very little of Vishnu’s inner life on the page, there is certainly plenty around it. The middle of the novel takes us through natural disasters, political turmoil, bureaucratic corruption and economic instability. For readers unfamiliar with Mauritius, this history is illuminating with a wealth of detail showcasing some of the best writing in the book. As Cyclone Carol threatens the island in 1960, Busjeet shifts from a recipe for marijuana to which the island’s Hindus join on happier occasions, to a sky painted blood-red by storm winds, then to the commotion of customers angling at a shop’s plywood and can. While distributing disaster survival advice, she was overseen by the knowledgeable “white-haired Chinese woman trusts an abacus.” The tension in moments like this is evident enough to inject the necessary bits of fuel into the story.

In the end, Vishnu arrives in more ways than one. He wins a secondary school scholarship on the island and later goes to London. He was accepted into one Ivy League university, then another, providing him with several high-contact mentors from old money America. In the few moments where he can derail – like in the kitchen of the Yale dining hall, when he is given a work-to-work job he thinks is underneath – Vishnu uses the kind of cunning, smug persuasion many a political insider would kill. for. Though he occasionally overdoes it and stumbles (in a fun turn, one expensive dinner during a college internship in Washington, DC, one expensive dinner leaves him broke, forcing him to return to the culinary job he’d previously avoided), Vishnu never second-guesses his ultimate goal. social status and material wealth. Unlike the calloused hands of the workers around him, he is very thoughtful as he proudly examines his “sookwaar” or slender hands; however, observation does not open the door to deeper reflections on inequality. There is little room for nuance in Vishnu’s view of the United States, which he gleefully approves, if not admiring.

Is there anything wrong with that? Finding something noble or soul-affirming in nature in blue-collar struggles battling economic collapse is a fantasy of the well-heeled. A reasonable level of wealth, and the security and comfort it brings, remains a primary goal for most of us, immigrants or not. But read now, when the American pursuit of extremism – even exaltation – has led to one of the most harmful societies in modern history, Vishnu’s reckless craving for the one percent sounds problematic at best. There are flashes in the last pages that he may have begun to realize this (“Was I a non-materialist at heart?” Vishnu thinks after failing to find an investment banking job. “Or did I enjoy the good life money brings?”), but they are too indecisive to count as moral progress.


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