cover image Beyond the Rice Fields

Beyond the Rice Fields

Naivo, trans. from the French by Allison M. Charette. Restless, $19.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-63206-131-7

Naivo’s novel, the first from Madagascar to be translated into English, pairs a sweeping, tragic love story with the 19th-century history of his island, when it teetered “on the verge of catastrophe.” Tsito, a child slave, is infatuated with his master’s daughter, Fara, and imagines his soul intertwining with hers “with the patience of a climbing vine meeting the steadfast fig tree.” Their fates diverge when Tsito is sold to a nobleman who moves to the island’s capital. There, Tsito learns enough skills in the employ of a French industrialist to claim his emancipation and join a religious mission to England. Meanwhile, Fara’s ambitions to reach the capital herself are interrupted when she and her family are swept up in the gruesome mass “trials” the island’s newly-crowned sovereign uses to determine whether or not her subjects are guilty of practicing “sorcery or insurrection.” Fara flees to the capital just as Tsito returns to Madagascar from his mission, but their reunion is interrupted by soldiers threatening to kill two-thirds of the population in their quest to ferret out the “traitors, witches, and defilers.” Naivo’s encyclopedic attempt to capture Madagascar’s history is admirable, but the depth of that portrait comes at the expense of the novel’s characters: they are only fully realized in the novel’s thrilling conclusion, and only then as victims of “the foundational animosities” tearing the island apart. Nevertheless, Naivo provides readers with an astonishing amount of information about Madagascar’s culture and past. (Oct.)