THE WONDROUS AND TRAGIC LIFE OF IVAN AND IVANA by Maryse Condé

A brief review from The New Internationalist.

THE WONDROUS AND TRAGIC LIFE OF IVAN AND IVANA

by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox

Born to a black single mother in Guadeloupe, twins Ivan and Ivana learn early in life that the odds are stacked against them; indeed, the title of this latest novel by Maryse Condé (dubbed the grande dame of Caribbean literature) lets the reader know upfront that things are not going to end well. As they grow up, the twins seek refuge in each other from daily struggles and outside interference in their lives – yet the love they share builds to a passion that they struggle to control or understand. They travel together to Mali to meet their absent father, and then on to Paris, where they take very different paths, with Ivan becoming radicalized and Ivana training to become a police officer. The tragic dénouement is scarcely a surprise – the twins’ fate had been predicted from their birth by their grandmother, who dreamt of them ‘lying in a pool of blood’.

Unsettling questions are raised by The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana: how much is the twins’ fate determined by their own misinterpretation and manipulation of their emotions? Can they be considered guilty if by suppressing a love deemed unacceptable by society they seek solace or distraction in other damaging ways? And with poverty, religion, colonialism and racism all having a role to play in their lives, to what extent are external influences the real driver of their destiny?

With a deft hand and wry wit, the unnamed narrator keeps the story moving but refrains from interpreting the events. So it is left up to the reader to draw their own conclusions and find their own answers, if they can.

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