Set in Trinidad in the 1950s, Bruised Hibiscus explores themes that still resonate today– race and gender. Rosa, a white woman married to a Trinidadian, and Zuela, a South American married to a Chinese store owner, were each affected by something they witnessed together when they were twelve. Both are now affected by the murders of a woman by her husband and another by her lover. According to public opinion, these women must have done something to deserve their murders, and so superstition takes hold, coloring the lives of Rosa and Zuela.
The novel fascinated me with its interplay of the disadvantages of race and gender, underlaid with the beliefs of this other culture. Rosa was driven by lust, not love, to marry her husband, and while she is a woman, and by implication, inferior, she is also white, which in another way gives her the upper hand over her husband, who is black. He is alternately contemptuous and afraid of her. Zuela was “adopted” by the Chinaman (the only way she thinks of him) who then married her when he made her pregnant at thirteen. At twenty-nine, she has ten children and is determined to save them from the Chinaman’s opium addiction. At times it felt like Nunez had a larger, longer novel in her, as she did not fully explain the conflict between whites in Trinidad and the native Trinidadians, or between the two protagonists. I was more interested in Zuela’s story, but still this remained an involving tale.