Beyond the Rice Fields
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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.
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.
“His lyrical chronicle traces the lives of Tsito, a young slave whose community is destroyed by Merina soldiers, his new master Rado, and Rado’s young daughter Fara…. Naivo gives dramatic intensity to the time of the Imerina monarchs, beginning in 1785 with the reign of Nampiona, a reformer king who declared, "the seas are the limits of my rice fields,” and ending in 1849, when the persecution of Christians and sympathizers reaches its peak under Queen Mavo. Translated from the French by Allison M Charette, this is a fascinating window into Malagasy history.”
—Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture
“The best historical fiction shines light on past horrors through the eyes of everyday people who have to find their way forward no matter how tortuous the path. Naivo’s debut, the first novel from Madagascar to be translated into English, does just that….the narrative arc, complete with lush descriptions of the rice fields of Sahasoa and the capital, Antananarivo, or the “City of Thousands,” is precise and effective. In all, Naivo has created a sharp and memorable tale of young lives caught in the crossfire of seismic events, and a significant novel that deservedly shines light on a little-known chapter of world history.”
—Poornima Apte, Booklist
“With quiet surety, the novel pairs an elegantly poetic narrative with an intensifying brutality of events as Madagascar finds itself beset by internal strife, French industrialism, and the zealous efforts of Christian missionaries. … Rich with historical and cultural detail, Beyond the Rice Fields demonstrates with omniscient sadness mankind’s ability to commit horrific acts in the name of tradition, or for whoever holds power at the moment.”
—Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews, Five-Heart Review
“A sweeping look at the history of slavery and modernization in Madagascar…. It is a vast and ambitious book, bristling with information about the history and culture of Madagascar…. 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
“Naivo’s novel, the first from Madagascar to be translated into English, pairs a sweeping, tragic love story with the 19th-century history of his island, when it teetered “on the verge of catastrophe.” … Naivo’s encyclopedic attempt to capture Madagascar’s history is admirable ... the novel’s characters [are] fully realized in the novel’s thrilling conclusion. … Naivo provides readers with an astonishing amount of information about Madagascar’s culture and past.”
“Naivo’s first novel... surprises and delights on multiple counts.... The epic story of a country entering a new era and the suspense-filled stories of the heroes are more than enough to captivate a Western reader.… This love and adventure story doubles as a discreet but caustic challenge of the foundations of contemporary Malagasy society itself. A celebration of language and culture, and a needle-sharp questioning of the machinery of society: these are just two sides of the same affection for the Great Island. This novel is both easy and complex, seductive and provocative, sentimental and clear-sighted… A journey through time, space, language, and the human heart—or, everything that we ask of a novel.”
—Dominique Ranaivoson, Africultures
“Their lives, both together and apart, deliver elements of a classic love story, yet beyond the couple’s whispered promises, Naivo’s unflinching realism leaves no room for such idealized tenderness.… the book is as much a commentary on the ruthlessness of colonial-era indifference as it is a primer in the universality of the human experience.”
—The Arkansas International
A stunning history of Madagascar
I knew nothing of the slavery and colonization of Madagascar. But this book exposed me to those truths. But the love story kept me rapt, so it never felt like it was a history lesson!