Cereus Blooms at Night
This book tells the story of an old woman, Mala Ramchandin, whom everyone thinks is mentally unstable and is afraid of her. She constantly seems to be mentally disturbed, talks to animals and in her old age, it is found out that she had killed her father. The judge is unable to make a ruling on her case because of her mental condition. Therefore, the court orders her to be sent to Paradise Alms House where the nurses are afraid to tend to her due to her reputation and Tyler, the only male nurse in the hospital, starts tending to her and after some time is able to gain the trust of Maya. Maya then tells the story of her life to Tyler. Tyler is the narrator of this story and he tells it with the hope that Asha, Mala’s long lost sister, will hear it (Mootoo, 1999). Mala’s mother, Sarah, elopes with her best friend Lavinia leaving behind her husband and two daughters, Mala and Asha.
Mala’s father Chandin then begins to take out his anger and vengeance on his daughters by sexually abusing them constantly. Asha runs away as soon as she is able to work, but for Mala, this abuse continues even in adulthood. Eventually, the abuse leads to her insanity and she starves her father to death. Tyler also meets Otoh, a son of Mala’s childhood friend who although was born a girl, believes that she is a boy and has in the process made everyone think of her as a boy. Tyler also feels as though he should be of a different gender, he acts, talks and feels more feminine than masculine. Otoh and Tyler soon fall in love. In the end, Mala, for the first time in her life, enjoys the joy of friendship, love and trust from Tyler, her caretaker. Tyler is also happy and content in his relationship with Otto, and accepts himself and his sexuality. He decides that he will dress as a woman because that is what he really is.
The main themes of this book are sexual deviance and homosexuality. The theme of homosexuality is brought out by Tyler and Otoh, who do not meet the expectations of their gender. In the novel, the writer says of Otoh, “walked and rand and dressed and talked and tumbled and all but relieved himself so much like an authentic boy”(Mootoo, 1999). Tyler is also confused and ashamed of his tendencies to think and act as a woman would despite the fact that he is man. Even his career choice, nursing, is thought of as feminine and the other nurses and has been ridiculed by his peers since childhood. Lavinia and Sarah, who are both women, leave the island together as lovers where previously they had been best friends. The theme of sexual deviance is illustrated by the sexual abuse that Chandin subjects his two daughters two. Mala says that she became an outcast in her won community because her father ‘confused her for his wife’ (Mootoo, 1999). This book boldly speaks about the sexual issues that exist and many people go through yet are considered taboo topics.
Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night, New York: Perennial, 1999