24 November 2017

Nathacha Appanah: Tropique de la violence (2016)

Nathacha Appanah's Tropique de la violence is a kind of (fictional) thriller which at the same time highlights one of the major problems in Mayotte, an island in the Atlantic which is also a department of France, although it vastly differs from the European mother country. The novel addresses one of the country's biggest problems: the plight of illegal immigrants, mainly from the Comoros, but also those from other nearby countries.

Tropique de la violence is narrated by several people, two of whom – Marie and Bruce – are dead. Marie was a white nurse in Mayotte whose husband had left her and she refused to divorce him until a teenaged woman, who has braved the hazardous journey on a kwassa from the Comoros, leaves her baby with Marie at the hospital.

The general idea of children or adolescents being left (or leaving themselves) in Mayotte is that they'll have a much better life in a French country. The reality, though, is that many paperless young people are living in a bidonville called Gaza, drinking, taking drugs and living by stealing from or conning others.

Marie 'adopts' the child (whom she calls Moïse) as her own with her husband's consent and an official certificate in exchange for a divorce. And then, when Moïse is still fourteen, she falls down dead in the kitchen. Not knowing what to do, Moïse leaves the house and eventually falls into the hands of Bruce, the 'king' of Gaza, and a very violent character who runs a Mafia-style gang.

But Moïse shoots Bruce dead, and the novel is much concerned with the events leading up to the killing, with a big surprise at the end. A superlative book that forced me to read on.

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