August 2, 2021

Nathacha Appanah in search of Mauritius, promised land

In 2016, even though Tropic of violence (Gallimard), his great novel on Mayotte, was very successful, Nathacha Appanah confided, in Little praise of ghosts (Folio), being haunted by another book: “I dream of writing a bright story about my grandparents, something that is beautiful, that is clear like summer mornings in their village, that is also true and that tells this lost world where they come from. “

Either the north of Mauritius, where, at the beginning of the XXe century, his grandparents were born in an Indian labor camp. From them, the novelist, journalist and translator born in 1973 in Mahébourg, settled in France since 1998, only keeps rumors and snatches of anecdotes woven into legend. She regrets not having asked her deceased ancestors about their daily life and the languages ​​they spoke with their parents – Indian immigrants who came to Mauritius at the end of the 19th century.e century to replace freed slaves in the cane fields.

The native land returns to torment

His grandparents are his “First ghosts”, those for whom she became a writer. If this emptiness did not prevent her from locating her work in Mauritius (until 2016), or attaching her characters to it, it undoubtedly explains the heady themes of her first novels which are exile, the question of transmission, the elusive dimension of the history and geography of his country. Often, it begins with a lure, that the lyrical writing, the heady rhythm of Nathacha Appanah tries to deconstruct, by placing themselves as close as possible to its protagonists, in their way of looking at their island, of trying to apprehend its landscapes, his history. Or by probing the way, often violent, that the native land and the relatives left behind return to torment them as they try to rebuild their lives in France. Thus Anita, in Waiting for tomorrow (Gallimard, 2015), rushes into its new existence in the Landes, as if the pine forest could erase everything.

The flight and the return are impossible in his first novel, The Rochers de Poudre d’Or (Gallimard, 2003). It follows the trajectory of “committed” Indian workers, who left their villages in the hope of making their fortune in “Merich”, Mauritius under British rule, where gold is found under the rocks. The British authorities make them sign five-year contracts which they do not understand. Whatever, the promised land encourages them to brave the « kala pani », the hell represented by the black expanse of the Indian Ocean. During the crossing, illness and madness strike. On their arrival, they will be parked in hangars and then transported to the French owners. Of gold, there is not under the rocks.

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