Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Well, frick that, then.

A friend of mine passed away today.

Except he couldn't have been a friend, right? We only exchanged a few emails.

And it wasn't today. Today is just when the news reached me.

David Jaomanoro is a Malagasy writer who spent the last eighteen years living in Mayotte. He won the Grand Prix RFI-ACCT de la nouvelle, a French short story prize, for "Funérailles d'un cochon". That story (and one other, along with a handful of his poems) was translated into English for the bilingual anthology, Voices from Madagascar/Voix de Madagascar.

This guy was a master of short stories. I read an entire collection of his, and you know how many stories I earmarked? 90% of them. I only earmark stories that I really want to work on.

I started translating one of these stories, "Nenitou", over a year ago, before I even went to Madagascar. I loved it, but I didn't understand half of the references. While in Madagascar, I asked everyone I met if they had an email or phone number for David. No luck. He was the only author I wanted to contact that I didn't reach by the end of my trip.

Months later,  I finally found a lead online. I sent him an email introducing myself and my project, held my breath, and let it out almost instantly -- he responded within just a couple of days. I asked him general questions about "Nenitou" and the rest of his writing, and he answered with grace and gratitude. He was incredibly sharp and well-spoken, and it was wonderful to read all his explanations. I promised to send him a list of all the specific questions I had about "Nenitou".

That email was sent on December. I never heard from him again. I followed up in March, just to see if it had gotten lost in the shuffle, but still no reply.

This weekend, I am in DC, working with a Malagasy-American author on a co-translation from Malagasy (not French) directly into English. We got to talking about other authors from her country, of course, and she started listing some of her favorites. She mentioned David's prize-winning short story and grabbed the collection it had first been published in, and then said, "Oh, but wasn't he the one who died?"

I hate it when my heart stops like that. When there's ever a reason for my heart to stop like that.

David Jaomanoro passed away from a stroke on December 7, 2014 -- the day before my last email to him.

It's the strangest feeling to suddenly understand the lengthy silence, to know that your questions will never be answered, to try to mourn someone you never met and knew little about.

Anyway. There's a nice obituary in French here, and a hefty bio also in French here. The first result I found online for an English-language biography is a one-line mention in a Wikipedia list. Maybe I can do something to change that. Maybe that's what I can do.