Silence of the Chagos by Shenaz Patel, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman [in Booklist]
Forced expulsions have long been part of man’s history, motivated by politics, prejudice, geography, human-made disasters, and natural forces. Virtually unknown is the full-scale eviction of the Chagossians, a Creole-speaking native ethnic group with African and Asian ancestry, from Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos archipelago. Between 1967 and 1973, the British and U.S. governments systematically banished the inhabitants, mostly to Mauritius, and established the largest military base outside the U.S. A half-century later, island sovereignty is still contested, while Chagossians remain barred from their homeland.
Into this history, Mauritius-based journalist Shenaz Patel’s first Anglophoned novel – enabled by award-winning translator Jeffrey Zuckerman – draws on real-life interviews with displaced Chagossians. The plot centers on Charlesia as she lands in Mauritius seeking medical help for her husband and is never allowed to return home. Decades later, she meets Désiré, born enroute to Mauritius, who as a struggling young man is eager to learn about a place, culture, and legacy he should have inherited but has never experienced – nor possibly ever will: “They erased everything, denied everything,” yet Patel writes wrongs, seeking overdue justice.
Review: modified from “Fiction,” Booklist, October 1, 2019
Published: 2019 (United States)