Mootoo, Shani 1958-
Mootoo, Shani 1958-
Born 1958, in Ireland; emigrated to Trinidad, then Canada, c. 1977.
Writer, multimedia artist, and video maker. Has exhibited her works in the United States and Canada.
AWARDS, HONORS: Cereus Blooms at Night was nominated in 1997 for the Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
Out on Main Street (short stories), Press Gang (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.
Cereus Blooms at Night (novel), Press Gang (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1996.
The Predicament of Or, Raincoast (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2001.
He Drown She in the Sea, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Multimedia artist and video maker Shani Mootoo is also enjoying a promising career as a fiction writer. Raised in Trinidad by Brahmin Indian parents, Mootoo now lives in Vancouver, Canada. Her first two books—a short story collection and a novel—are shaped by a desire to illustrate the complexity of relationships formed between individuals of different races, cultures, sexes, and sexual orientations.
Out on Main Street is a collection of nine stories, many of which focus on lesbian women of Indian or Caribbean origins. The scenarios Mootoo explores include women being victimized by men, lesbian couples being mistreated by heterosexuals, and Indian-Canadians showing contempt for Trinidadians. Critic T. Virginia Gillese remarked on the collection in Canadian Literature: "Mootoo's women characters have substance, and they offer insight into the complexity of individuals through their extraordinary ordinariness." Ayse Tuzlak, reviewing the book for Quill & Quire, saw the narrators of the stories as being unified in their "attempt to find meaning in a world that is often hostile toward women." While Tuzlak felt that the collection demonstrates that "there is room for Mootoo to mature as a writer," she also commended the best stories in the collection for being "believable, genuine, and bittersweet." In a
Lambda Book Report review, Jewelle Gomez further noted that the stories are "not so much about the racism and xenophobia Indians face … . [as about] an unself-conscious exploration of people who're all seeking a better life." Gomez praised Mootoo as "a skilled writer, balancing uncommon sensitivity and brash humor, able to draw the uninitiated into the worlds she evokes."
Mootoo's first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night, belongs to the genre of magical realism. A fictional Caribbean island is home to her central character, a crazy old woman named Mala who has been committed to the Paradise Alms House. Mootoo reveals Mala's life story in the third person, supplemented by the first-person observations of a caring gay male nurse named Tyler. In
Books in Canada Eva Tihanyi pointed out the "undeniable beauty despite its framework of sadness, disappointment, and violence." Nancy Wigston, writing in Quill & Quire, commented that "Mootoo's island in the sun … emerges with the grit and detail of childhood recalled." With its "deft design of vivid and sensuous scenes," Wigston commended the book as "a memorable lesson in the value of love, whatever guise it may wear."
He Drown She in the Sea is Mootoo's "lush, sensuous second novel," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The shadow of class distinctions darkens the friendship of upper-class Indian girl Rose Sangha and half-caste Indian boy Harry St. George as they grow up on the fictional Caribbean island of Guanagaspar. Completely unaware of and unconcerned with any ideas of class or caste, Rose and Harry are close friends in childhood. However, the islanders are well aware of the class differences, as Rose's family is well-off and Harry's mother works for them as a maid and laundress, though she is accepted by Rose's kindly mother as a friend. As Harry grows up, his mother tries to get him to accept his place, and Harry becomes more and more aware of the seemingly impenetrable obstacle that his accident of birth has put before him. When American troops occupy the island during World War II, Rose's mother invites Harry and his mother to stay the night for safety's sake, rather than travel back to their own village. Unexpectedly, Rose's tyrannical father returns and, finding the two youngsters innocently asleep in the same bed, banishes Harry and his mother from the house. The rift between Harry and Rose seems unmendable; she eventually marries the man who will become the island's attorney general, and Harry moves to Canada, where he becomes a gardener. By chance, Harry and Rose meet again in Vancouver years later, leading to changes neither expected. Later, an unexpected phone call, with news portended by the novel's title, brings Harry back to Guanagaspar and to a reunion with Rose. In coming together again, however, neither of their lives will ever be the same. "Mootoo writes with an eye for detail and magically transports the reader from one shore to the other," observed reviewer Joy Humphrey in Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Allison Block called Mootoo's novel a "transcendent tale of souls wounded by circumstance and rehabilitated by love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, fall, 1994, Mina Kumar, review of Out on Main Street, p. 91.
Booklist, April 15, 2005, Allison Block, review of He Drown She in the Sea, p. 1433.
Books in Canada, February, 1997, Eva Tihanyi, review of Cereus Blooms at Night, p. 37.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1995, T. Virginia Gillese, review of Out on Main Street, pp. 131-132.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2005, review of He Drown She in the Sea, p. 444.
Lambda Book Report, March-April, 1994, Jewelle Gomez, review of Out on Main Street, p. 30.
Library Journal, April 15, 2005, Joy Humphrey, review of He Drown She in the Sea, p. 76.
Quill & Quire, November, 1993, Ayse Tuzlak, review of Out on Main Street, p. 32; December, 1996, Nancy Wigston, review of Cereus Blooms at Night, p. 34.
Emory College English Department Web site,http://www.english.emory.edu/ (May 8, 2006), biography of Shani Mootoo.