Zee Monodee was born and continues to live on the island of Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean with her husband and family. As such, her stories of love and relationships cross many cultural borders and include insight only a person raised in the exotic can provide.
Though Zee’s stories find global locations, I urge readers to take a look at her Island Girls Trilogy. The setting for each is Mauritius and exposes the reader to cultural nuances unfamiliar in current day America, such as how a divorced woman is automatically subjected to gossip, ridicule, and a societal expectation that she remarry immediately – love not required.
The first in the series is “The Other Side,” a story focusing on the divorce predicament and one woman’s struggle to negotiate the maze of harassment and matchmaking while trying to find happiness. “Light My World” explores how embedded the old cultures are in modern Mauritius. “Winds of Change” follows a widow with children who has abided by the expectations heaped upon her. Still, there’s a woman inside her with needs,
Zee writes with a flair for life and love. Her stories can be intense, though always enjoyable, and, since they’re romance, the happy ending is guaranteed, though sometimes the reader won’t see it coming.
Q) You’re fearless. Have you encountered any backlash from your stories tackling Mauritius society?
A) While most women-centered media welcomed the foray into society and getting behind its closed doors, the other, male-oriented and patriarchal media had tons to say, and fling at me, for daring to treat this kind of subject. Remember – when this book first came out, it was 2007, and divorce was still a hush-hush, taboo matter.
Then, of course, this was Mauritius, where sectarian differences still thrive in – thank goodness! – only a small slice of the population. Just my luck one of the reporters who reviewed and covered the book’s release was of a different religion, and he made his beef very public that I, as a Muslim, should’ve written about Muslims and nothing/no one else.
But the point this reporter missed – or refused to see, maybe – is that I write about culture, not religion. People from the same country/region/diaspora will find echoes of their culture in others, despite whatever religious or ethnic belonging “separate” them.
I stuck to my guns, and then later used this “feedback” to carve myself another niche – I actually wrote a Muslim romance (Once Upon A Second Chance) and wove threads of religion, culture, and what it means to be Muslim into a tale of reunited lovers. Most readers who’ve read this tale have mentioned it’s been an eye-opener for them about Muslims and their culture/beliefs/way of life. I just hope I did a good job portraying a world that is often misunderstood.
Q) What has been the greatest difficulty in seeing your work published?
A) Many of my books, especially when I started writing, focused on Indo-Mauritian culture and were set in Mauritius. First slam into the wall: what the heck/where on Earth is Mauritius? Next up was my culture slant. How many Indian-culture authors do you know? I know only 3 – Nisha Minhas, Monica Pradhan, and Shobhan Bantwal. Enter Zee Monodee with popular fiction veering on the lighter, rom-com end of the spectrum, with stories about islanders whose ancestors – twice to thrice removed – came from India, and their story is set in a country that is a melting pot of almost every race/culture/religion of the world.
Q) You survived a devastating car crash, only to learn later you had breast cancer. How did those events change your outlook on life?
A) Two crushed vertebras in my spine – result of that accident – put me in the world of chronic back pain sufferers, and this decreased my scope of action for the future. Like, my range of action was compromised, and travel exacerbated the pain. A desk job seemed like the only solution, and that’s how I entered the corporate world. Being so “restrained” physically made me start to dream big, to really think of those aspirations that had been simmering at the back of my mind for maybe forever. Like, write, for example.
Then I got married and had my son, and dreams got shelved while I became a stay-at-home-mum. Barely two years into this stint, and bam, there it is – the diagnosis for rapidly-developing malignant breast cancer. At age 22! Yeah, I, too, thought it never happened before the 40s. My cancer care team got that tumor out in the nick of time; another week and I’d be toast – the cancer would’ve probably spread to my whole system. I realized I came close to death...but at the same time, God had granted me a second chance. I was still alive, still given the possibility to build a future with my husband, for us and our son, to watch my kid grow and be there for him the way I’d promised that just-born baby I would always be for him.
Life can stop at any given moment; we never know when. It made me appreciate the moments I get to be alive, to feel, to know that, maybe, I’ll get to see another day. Trust me, that kind of wake-up call changes you – you never under-appreciate a single moment of your life from there on.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author. www.kevad.net