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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.
Apparently this is only the second work of Madagascan literature to be translated into English. I got this for World Book Day and was initially concerned because the ratings for it aren't great, but I don't let other people's opinions put me off a work. I like to see for myself if it's any good-- plus, I loved the cover and title.
Sadly, I would say that the consensus opinion is pretty on the ball for this one and I'm really not sure if it's the author's fault or the translator's fault to blame because the writing was flat and everything was told in a series of info dumps. If this book wasn't so short, I never would have been able to make it through because reading it was so tedious.
The redeeming factors are that you get to learn a lot about the history, culture, and folklore of Madagascar. I learned so much that I didn't know before, so it's hard to give this a one when it was such a learning experience. But no, I really don't think this is a great book and I can't recommend it, either. Give it a try if you want to check out something new, though.
This was a pleasure to read. Though a bit disjointed and hard to follow at times, I enjoyed it, like listening to an easy distracted person tell a story. Admittedly, it's not for everyone though. The translation of certain terms was also a distraction. While in most cases context helped, there were certain instances where I had to stop reading to figure out what the terms meant, before I could continue. Other than that, I enjoyed the mythology, culture, and even the confusion of this story.
This beautiful novel weaves together three disparate strands: Ietsy, a mythical figure, the first man of Madagascar according to legend; Ietsy as a youth, privileged and spoiled and hedonistic; and Ietsy as an elder, afflicted with insomnia and reliving his life. The repetition of these names and the parallels in their stories reflect, I think, the way memories become our honored ancestors.
Ravaloson also subtly deals with class and racism throughout the novel. He describes Ietsy's youth as a rich man in Madagascar, in contrast to the poverty-stricken people around him. But when Ietsy visits Paris, he discovers that he's treated as an exhibit and experiences the racism of a predominantly-white country towards a black man.
I was also fascinated by his approach to women. At the beginning of the novel, Ietsy describes how his mother was not allowed to be buried in the family vault, part of a tradition that only male children, not mere daughters-in-law, would achieve that privilege. Ietsy struggles through his relationships with women, from his aunt to his Parisian girlfriend. When he eventually returns to Madagascar and rediscovers the woman he will marry, one of the conditions of the marriage is that she will be buried in the family vault. I thought that showed his growth in respect for women and his appreciation as well for the strength of the traditions of his homeland.
The novel also incorporates some stories of Malagasy mythology and folklore, like the first man (Ietsy) and how people were created, but also there are mermaids and serpents and other stories. Interestingly, I couldn't find reference to Ietsy-the-legend in any of the sources I read on this subject. I wonder if the name was changed to make it more palatable for an English-reading audience (perhaps Andriambahomanana, the first man according to Wikipedia, would be too hard to track as a main character!).
Speaking of English-reading audiences: this book is only the second novel from Madagascar ever published in English. As another reviewer has pointed out, the translator does a great job in both conveying the story but also providing context and explanation for some of the culturally-specific concepts. For example, she describes "the lambamena, shrouds of wild silks" used to wrap and re-wrap the dead. For those of us not acquainted with the practice, it's useful to get those explanatory asides.
And like, listen, this is a complex story. It's not an easy read! The strands of the story weave together and overlap until Ravaloson reveals the tapestry he has been creating. It's not a beach read, but it is well worth savoring.
This book is not my usual fare to read. I thought I wouldn't like it, but was surprised. It is a little too disjipnted for me. I did enjoy reading it after I started. The characters came to life for me even with the parallel myth/forklore story woven into the book.