Entangled Gardens: Heterotopian Relationality in Romesh Gunesekera’s The Prisoner of Paradise (2012) | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


This essay proposes a relational conception of utopian entanglements that frames utopia in material environmental terms and focuses on gardens as exemplary sites where materialism and other discourses in culture and literature come together. It contextualises a piece of historical metafiction in a framework informed by heterotopia and recent theorisations of relationality in the face of an ongoing crisis of connection that encompasses human relations with the environment. The Prisoner of Paradise (2012) by Sri Lankan-British writer Romesh Gunesekera is a historical narrative set in 1825 on the island of Mauritius, which serves a diasporic microcosm that not only showcases transnational relations between Asia, Africa and Europe but includes the natural environment in a perspective that invited readers to approach connection as a challenge for the imagination. Gunesekera deconstructs western images of paradise, using gardens to problematize the human exploitation of the environment, other creatures, place, memory and representation. In Gunesekera’s temporally displaced setting, gardens serve as spaces of escape in which human beings experience nature as an agent which ultimately cannot be appropriated. By metatextually criticising the misuse of utopian images, the novel reveals present-day crises of connection as the outcome of a failure to activate the transformative potential of the imagination.


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