BEYOND THE RICE FIELDS
translated by Allison M. Charette
Pub date: October 31, 2017
The first novel from Madagascar ever to be translated into English, Naivo’s magisterial Beyond the Rice Fields delves into the upheavals of the nation’s past as it confronted Christianity and modernity, through the twin narratives of a slave and his master’s daughter.
Longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award
Previewed on BBC.com
Excerpt in Two Lines Journal
Excerpt in Epiphany: A Literary Journal
Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.
With captivating lyricism, propulsive urgency, and two unforgettable characters at the story’s core, Naivo unflinchingly delves into the brutal history of nineteenth-century Madagascar. Beyond the Rice Fields is a tour de force that has much to teach us about human bondage and the stories we tell to face—and hide from—ourselves, each other, our pasts, and our destinies.
"[As] Tsito and Fara come into greater contact with foreigners, or find their lives increasingly affected by the religious and political changes at work, the reader pieces together that reality along with them—a limited perspective achieved without cloying pretended ignorance or coy withholding of information."
"The visible language traces evident in the text are Malagasy, not French, as if the French of the novel’s original version had been a bridge between the (implicitly) Malagasy-speaking characters and the French readers; that has in turn been replaced by an English-language bridge. Charette pulls this off without flattening or overly domesticating the text."
"Naivo’s novel rewards the reader’s patience."
-- Amalia Gladhart, Necessary Fiction
"[Readers] will be rewarded by a sudden rush of clarity, and a sense of contact with a vanished world."
"This is no Things Fall Apart, setting out a simple before-and-after story of how colonialism impacted Africa. Rather, Beyond the Rice Fields is a spiraling, dense, and prickly work, difficult to access until the foreign reader has agreed to put in some time and effort. But once the effort is put in, it is richly rewarding."
-- Kate Prengel, Words Without Borders
"In Beyond the Rice Fields, the turn of each page is the flip of a playing card; as the conflict builds, Tsito and Fara’s fate becomes increasingly more precarious, and we find ourselves praying alongside those standing trial: 'We ask that the outcome be favorable. We ask that the verdict be just.'"
"[U]nfamiliarity is one of the great joys of this text for anglophone readers. From details such as the importance of the correct arrangement of domestic objects so as to please the ancestors and striking expressions – ‘by my father’s incest’, for example – through to rituals including the fampitaha competition, a dance contest in which female competitors must, among other things, perform while being carried on men’s shoulders, the book is a lavish representation of a remote and strange world."
"These sorts of unfamiliar ways of viewing and capturing human experience make the text richly nourishing, particularly for English-language readers who also write. They show us new ways of imagining, recalling Goethe’s claim about the importance of literary cross-cultural exchange for keeping storytelling vibrant: ‘Left to itself, every literature will exhaust its vitality if it is not refreshed by the interest and contributions of a foreign one.’"
-- Ann Morgan, A Year of Reading the World