“Blue Bay Palace” is narrated by Maya, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Mauritius. The idyllic tropical vacation spot is, she thinks, "a country in extremis" - and:
“Like this country, I am a child in extremis. That is why my parents named me Maya - illusion, the one whom we believe is, but who is not.”
Blue Bay sounds like it might be a decent place to grow up, but it's a poor little corner of this paradise, the side of the village where no one, for example has a car:
“When one can afford a car, one leaves Blue Bay.”
Maya had ambitions to get out, but a day after she turned sixteen she met Dave, the spoilt and rich son of a Brahman* family from Mahébourg ("It was only half an hour away from Blue Bay, but another world"). And so she too goes to work at Le Paradis, the resort where Dave works - the hotel where he is, in fact, Maya's father's boss.
They have a passionate and extended love affair, which blinds Maya to the reality of their situation. Dave seems like a confident, take-charge kind of guy when she describes the first years of their affair, but it turns out he has trouble standing up against certain kinds of tradition (and confrontation in general, apparently). And so one day Maya reads "a small report in the local paper" - and learns that Dave has gotten married:
“I didn't suspect a thing. Dave had told me he was tired and that he was going to rest at home for two weeks; he would be the one to call me.”
Maya is crushed, but their affair continues, Dave wanting both worlds - pleasing his family and living up to expectations, while also having the girl he (apparently) loves. Appanah nicely conveys the change in their relationship, and Maya's inability to let go.
Dave is an interesting character in that he is entirely frank about his weakness. Maya recognizes it, but can't let the bum go. And then there's the ominous moment when, talking about his bride: "he said those unfortunate words: 'Sometimes I wish she would die".
Maya does not seek out vengeance, but she remains caught up in her obsession. It embroils her in another relationship, and it does, ultimately, lead to tragedy.
A tale of young, messy love, where chance leads to fate, “Blue Bay Palace” is a bit thin to sustain all this raw emotion, passion, and hurt. The sketches - Maya's impressions of wealth and luxury, her father's struggles with the cacti around their house, dealing with the tourists -- are often very good, but the novel could have used a bit more substance.
Still, early on Maya seems to acknowledge that all this experience has not matured her, still describing herself as "a child", and the narrative voice retains a convincing childish quality that Appanah pulls off quite well and that works quite well for much of the story…
At just over 100 pages this is almost more of a novella, and one which I read in an afternoon, however it was an enjoyable read with a vibrant dash of local description amid the high drama.
Rather than travel on to another Indian Island nation, I take a detour for now and head to Kenya on the mainland. That is not to say that I have forgotten about Mauritius’ Indian Ocean neighbours and I shall be travelling to the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands following my trip to Kenya.
However, due to a mix up with my accommodation in Seychelles (all visitors must have proof of accommodation bookings before arrival), for now I take an Air Kenya flight to Nairobi. Therefore, I take an air-conditioned bus to the elaborately named Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was a key figure in the Mauritian Independence Movement and the country’s first Prime Minister) at Plaisance in the southeast of the island.
I am booked on an Air Mauritius flight to Jomo Kenyatta airport at 08.40. It costs an eye-watering AUS$826 but at least it is direct, taking only four hours twenty minutes and arriving in the capital of Kenya at midday (allowing for the hour time difference). Furthermore the single aisle A319 plane that I travel on is comfortable and seems reassuringly airworthy, so I have no cause for complaint here (although be warned – the arrivals hall at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam airport gets very congested in the morning as this is when most of the flights from Europe arrive. Immigration officers tend to be rather slow and the whole immigration process is a frustrating experience at this time of the day!)
My ongoing destination is an interesting, and rather strange one. Whilst this novel, “The Wizard of the Crow,” is by renowned Kenyan author-in-exile Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (his first in twenty years), the story is set in the imaginary Free Republic of Aburiria, autocratically governed by one man, known only as the Ruler. However, it is obvious that this novel is a thinly disguised metaphor for – indeed, caricature of – the corrupt government of Kenya specifically, and many African leaderships generally:
“Aburiria is recognisable as Africa in all its splendour, squalor, economic malaise and venality, but it comes with more than a touch of magical realism.” The Economist.
As such, I felt that this was an important book, by an important author, to read at this stage. However in the interests of balance, given the metaphorical nature of this book, I will be following this read up with “A Small Town in Africa”, a more ‘realist’ depiction of life in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, by Daisy Waugh, of which more later...
* Brahman is the highest level in the Hindu caste system