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Johary Ravaloson’s first novel to be translated into English is okay as such, but please do not expect anything mind blowing, or masterful. One problem with this is that the book was self-published, after all the author set up the printing house with his wife, and so there is no proper editing as such, which does leave this at times a bit messy.
Our main character, or anti-hero if you prefer is Ietsy Razak, a Malagasy, who is not necessarily someone you will particularly like, as he is of the entitled class, and so not really someone who has to do much but can laze around. We thus follow his exploits as the story, which is not that long continues. Along with this we read of certain myths and legends of the Malagasy peoples, although as there are so many different folk legends you may be aware of some of these but in slightly different contexts. There is of course some of the history of Madagascar as well as developments that have come about over time. With the people still taking in ancestor worship to a certain degree, despite being registered as being Christian and so on, so Madagascar does have a certain symbiotic charm that a lot of places have lost, as people hedge their bets with regards to an afterlife and such like.
In reality this tale does follow a grand tradition as it is a bit of a shaggy dog story, and they have always proved somewhat popular, whether told orally or as here in writing. This could have been much better than it is, but as such is certainly an okay read. The shaggy dog element of this will probably be over the heads of most people, and this has nothing to do with intelligence, but simply because we are reading about a culture and at times a lifestyle that is completely alien to the vast majority of us.
As we are reminded before the tale starts, and then in the epilogue, there is what is called here a hainteny, this one being:
‘Men do not cry; they are contemplating Ietsy’s pool. Enchanted as Ietsy was, buried in the land of his children.’
Return to the Enchanted Island is the first Madagascan-authored novel I have had the opportunity to read so I was delighted to spot the work in this English language translation. The novel is a blend of Madagascan mythology and a coming of age story which centres on the experiences of Ietsy (Ietsé in the original French) as he struggles to find his place in the world. Unfortunately he is quite the 'spoilt rich boy' character so I rarely found it easy to feel much sympathy for him, but I enjoyed Ravaloson's engaging narrative style and the way in which the mythological stories interwove with Ietsy's life was nicely done.
Ietsy's family has, historically, always managed to back the 'right' side so the boy's claim to be 'protected by Gods and Ancestors' has a ring of truth about it in that his position of wealth and privilege now is a direct result of his forebears shrewd decision-making and prudence. Ravaloson contrasts Ietsy's luxurious home with the poverty surrounding the family's enclave, but doesn't have Ietsy put two and two together until quite late in the story which I found frustrating as a reader. I felt that if Ietsy had begun his redemption arc much sooner, it would have been more plausible. Ultimately though, I found it difficult to believe that his new-found caring attitude wasn't just another ploy. Return to the Enchanted Island is a fairly short novel that I read across a sunny afternoon. It did get confusing in places, particularly where the storyline jumps from Ietsy's past to his present, or from Ietsy himself to Madagascan mythology. However, overall, it was an enjoyable read and I loved learning about the island's creation myth, and the ways this people's story of themselves impacts on their everyday lives.