cover image An Impossible Return

An Impossible Return

Caroline Laurent, trans. from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman. Amazon Crossing, $24.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3501-9

Franco-Mauritian writer Laurent, in her potent English-language debut, overlays a tragic love story onto a powerful account of historical injustice in the Chagos Archipelago. When Mauritius declares its independence in 1967, its ruling party strikes a deal with the U.K. to evict the Indigenous Chagossians and to turn their largest island over to the U.S. for use as a military base, barring the Chagossians from ever returning to their homeland. Laurent effectively condenses the complicated bureaucratic machinations to human scale with the story of Marie, a young Chagossian mother who falls in love with Gabriel, a secretary to the island’s Mauritian administrator. Their love—and the fate of their infant son, Joséphin—becomes entangled in these political forces, as Gabriel’s Mauritian citizenship confers him a protected status denied to Marie. The many moments of gruesome colonial brutality are undercut by the Chagossians’ tenderness, courage, and simmering rage in response to incalculable loss. Gabriel and Marie’s saga, which involves a hunger strike, murder, and other dramatic episodes, is interspersed with a piercing 2019 narrative from an adult Joséphin: “Believe me. Our fate affects you all,” he notes. Thanks to Laurent’s devastating work, readers will, indeed, have their eyes and hearts opened. (Oct.)