*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Grand Menteur
Author: Jean Mare Ah-Sen
Publication Date: October 2015
The secret world of Mauritian street gangs is not for the faint of heart. Fraught with peril and mischief, its inner workings are a mystery to the daughter of one of its most valued members: Serge, the Grand Menteur. A liar of exceptional caliber whose sole responsibility is to purposefully confuse police with alibis, the Menteur fears for the criminal future he has unwittingly introduced into his daughter’s life, when her clear knack for violence attracts the notice of senior gang members. Mauritian Kreol, English, and French blend together into a heady brew of language in Grand Menteur. Written in a nuanced style reflecting the island-nation’s convoluted history of colonialism, this debut novel by Jean Marc Ah-Sen sheds an unflinching light on the poverty and down-and-out hardship of a shadow class of immigrants from the 1940s to the ’80s.
Ah-Sen’s short novel tells the story of Serge, the Grand Menteur, from the point of view of his daughter. While we know Serge is involved with a Mauritian street gang known as the Sous, it is never quite clear what the gang’s objective is. We see into their group through the daughter from the perspective of a young girl to a woman. She is not privy to the gang’s activities and so we come to know the men that make up this strange group, rather than the crimes they commit. The daughter is given a codex to detail the group’s activities and to help her know her secretive father better, however she never really deciphers it for us, if she is even able to understand it herself. There’s a sense that she is never fully able to understand her father or the group when, in the novel’s final pages, her lifelong companion Cherelle, makes reference to her own codex in full understanding. The daughter is isolated from the group, and so are we the reader. Perhaps she is never meant to fully know the inner workings of the Sous
Ah-Sen’s writing is a bit of a struggle to adapt to. I found myself pulling out my dictionary to define a few words throughout, an experience that doesn’t happen often for me. Ah-Sen does not assume that his reader is unintelligent. He expects you to keep up and to follow along. He certainly has a masterful grasp of diction and many of his sentences are delightful and fascinating. It’s a story that demands your full attention. I found it a bit of a struggle to retain the story because of the complexity of the sentences and the infrequency of large blocks of time to sit down and read. This is a book meant to be read in one sitting. The longer period of time I had to read, the more captivated I was by the story. I hope you all enjoy checking this debut novel out.