Following his earlier The Sugar Baron's Women, Jacques Lee's new novel is his second involving life and love in his fictional Miraucia. East of Africa, South of India is immeasurably more ambitious, encompassing the tumultuous period after Independence in 1968, and providing the backcloth for a multilayered novel incorporating love, death, political mayhem and Byzantine plotting.The action never lets up, and the reader is led through a story in which its heroine, Lovena Pillay, defies convention in her pursuit of love, and creates a dynamic political party which transforms the political scene in Miraucia, and brings about economic success to this small island in the Indian Ocean.
Miraucia if of course a thin disguise for Mauritius, and although the characters are fictional, the geography of the island, and indeed its history in the 1970s and 80s, are never far away. Port Louis and Curepipe are unmistakeable even though their names are changed, while 'Flac-en-Flac' and 'Cing Bornes' raise a smile of recognition. The amazing success of Lovena's party, the National Unity Party (NUP or 'Nuppies) in winning all 60 seats in the 1981 general election mirrors the result gained by the youthful Mouvement Militant Mauricien in Mauritius in 1982. And the NUP political programme is equally redolent of the real life economic success in the 1980s, based on agriculture diversification, tourism and industrial expansion through Export Processing Zone (identical in both Miraucia and Mauritius). One major difference with the real-life Mauritius: Lovena is the island's first woman MP. Unique indeed!
Democracy and its institution, notably a fiercely free press, defy fears about a one-party state, and the shifting alliances across political parties are inherent in both alliance between Lovena and Robert Laurent, the leader of the opposing Le Parti Miraucien (LPM). And further intrigues emerge with several throw-backs to The Sugar Baron's Women, with surprising subsequent relationships. This also sparks off plots against the stability - indeed the life - of PM Lovena. Robert, it should be said, is not the only liaison between Lovena and a succession of lovers including a British politician and a French Ambassador (she aims high!). Lovena also manages to establish cordial relations with Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and Indira Gandhi. Miraucia's fruitful contacts with the 'real world' were also part of the 'real' political scene in the 1980s.
The reader must fasten his seat belt to follow the intricate twists and turns of this tale, but throughout the novel a continuing thread is the role of the free press. 'Verbatim' press reports and 'letters to the editor' frequently illustrate the sometimes-scandalous social and political scene.The media will unveil the uncomfortable truths about the scandal at Air Miraucia, the attempted coup d'etat, the secrets behind assassination attempts and straight murder, and - eventually, Lovena's attempt to muzzle the press which precipitates her downfall. Her first love, Robert Laurent, reluctantly leads the opposition against this most un-Miraucian attack on free speech.
Anybody familiar with the real-life Mauritius will immediately empathise with this novel, but this intriguing and eventful piece should do much to establish Jacques Lee as an original and exciting writer.
by Don Moore
A captivating story
"An interesting tale of romance & political intrigues full of twists & turns which will keep you in suspense & eager to know the ending" - Gerard
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