Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields, by Naivo

I was delighted when this newly published book turned up in our local library. It is described as the first Malagasy novel to be published in English. I'm not sure what that means as it was initially published in France and appears to have been translated from French. So I suspect that is "Malagasy" as in "from Madagascar" rather than "Malagasy" as in "written in the Malagasy language".

At any rate, it is a fascinating view of the little known history of Madagascar. Set in the nineteenth century, at the time of King Radama I and his successor Queen Ranavalona I, it tells of the life of Tsito, a young boy from the forest people, who is captured and enslaved, and of Fara, the daughter of the man who purchases him. It is a time of great turbulence in Madagascar. Tsito falls in love with Fara, but as a slave, he is not able to fulfil his love. However, eventually he is able to gain his freedom. He becomes a skilled craftsman, and even travels to Chatham in Kent to learn English methods of shipmaking. In the meantime Fara and her family fall victim to a sweeping wave of repression against the newly ascendant Christian religion, and against others who are suspected in any way of disloyalty to the crown, or of sorcery.

The book is dense with plot and many characters, and was at times tricky to follow. I found myself flipping back to check on earlier happenings, and also turning to the glossary and historical summary at the end of the book. Nevertheless, I was riveted by this view of a world that I was unfamiliar with, knowing of Madagascar only through wildlife documentaries.

Naivo is the pen name of Naivoharisoa Patrick Ramamonjisoa. The book was translated from French by Allison M. Charetteand published by Restless Books in October 2017.

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