Beyond the Rice Fields
I have all these books here to post about, but the time flies by and I still haven't written! Well, here's one, anyway. The first novel from Madagascar, written in Malagasy, to be translated into English. Naivo is a pen name for Naivoharisoa Patrick Ramamonjisoa, and this is his first novel -- and it's historical fiction.
The story is set in the early 19th century. Tsito is a little boy whose village was attacked, and he's been sold into slavery. He's fortunate to be bought by a trader who is kind to him, teaches him a lot, and then leaves him in the village of Sahasoa with his former girlfriend, Bao, and their daughter Fara. Fara and Tsito grow up together as close companions. At the same time, Europeans are just barely beginning to arrive in Madagascar, which has a destabilizing effect on society, even though not many people convert.
As Tsito grows up, his fortunes rise and he's able to gain a good education and position, though he is still a slave and so Fara doesn't see him as a romantic possibility. Years go by, and against the background of Malagasy history, Tsito buys his freedom, watches his employer's family fortunes fall, and even spends a few years in England learning engineering. All along, he yearns for Fara. Meanwhile, her circumstances are getting worse; the queen has instigated what amounts to political and superstitious witch-hunting across the land and no one is safe from denouncement and trial by poison. When their paths cross again, Tsito and Fara may find happiness...or not.
This was a fascinating and enjoyable book, with a richly textured historical setting. Naivo doesn't condescend to the reader by explaining every little thing, which is good, and also means you'll have frequent recourse to the glossary and historical timeline that are helpfully included. I enjoyed it quite a bit.