Nestled in the Mozambique Channel, the island of Mayotte is an overseas department of France, wrenched away from the Comoran archipelago in 1975. This act of colonial mutilation gave birth to an ultra-peripheral “French” territory that persists as a beacon of hope for Comoran clandestine migrants, thousands of whom have perished on the treacherous sea crossing since 1995. In her novel Tropique de la violence (2016), Mauritian author Nathacha Appanah inscribes the Mahoran tragedy within a global imaginary of migration. This essay explores the risks and merits of such a comparative approach: as Appanah’s references to the Mediterranean “migration crisis” foster transnational empathy, do they simultaneously reproduce the colonial gaze? After all, the polyphonic novel does not give a voice to the Comoran migrant herself. Is this a gesture of narrative violence, or a way of forcing us to confront silences that can never be filled? Through a series of detailed close-readings, the essay argues that Tropique de la violence takes a nuanced and often ironical approach to the facile equivalences between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean (in terms of migratory tragedy), as well as between Mayotte and France (in terms of political status). This exploration culminates in an examination of the novel’s own complex positionality as a French-language novel written by a Mauritian author about Mayotte. Simultaneously branded as too foreign and yet not foreign enough, Tropique de la violence both embodies and exceeds Indian Ocean circularities.

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