cover image Tropic of Violence

Tropic of Violence

Nathacha Appanah, trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-64445-024-6

Orphaned gang members and desperate refugees live on a machete’s edge in Appanah’s blistering depiction (after Waiting for Tomorrow) of postcolonial chaos in Mayotte, an island in the Mozambique channel. A carousel of first-person narrators recount the abrupt life story of Möise, abandoned as a baby and taken in by Marie, a white nurse in Mayotte. After Marie dies, the teenage Möise’s simmering identity crisis leads him into the island’s unforgiving slum, a “violent no-man’s land” called Gaza. There, the book-loving Möise, who names his dog after the author Henri Bosco, falls sway to gang leader Bruce, whose child soldiers run Gaza’s economy by drug dealing, burglary, and political graft. Marked as a middle-class interloper, Möise is ripe for Bruce’s exploitation. The calamitous chain of events that follows is narrated from beyond the grave by players who are helpless to change it and can only affirm its inevitability. “This country turns us all into beings who do wrong,” Marie says in her ghostly narration. A journalist and native Mauritian, Appanah has a knack for reportorial detail that crystallizes the characters’ commentary. Seen from above, present-day Mayotte is adrift in its own history, neglected by France, its parent state; at ground level it’s bloodstained and redolent with “sour urine on street corners, ancient shit in the gutters, chicken being grilled on top of oil drums, eau de cologne and spices outside the houses, the sour sweat of men and women and musty reek of laundry.” Appanah skillfully lets these perspectives merge in the short, brutal lives of her characters. This heralds Appanah as an essential cosmopolitan voice. (May)