BE­YOND THE RICE FIELDS

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - MEG NOLA

Naivo, Al­li­son M. Charette (Trans­la­tor), Rest­less Books (OC­TO­BER), Soft­cover $19.99 (400pp), 978-1-63206-131-7 Be­yond the Rice Fields demon­strates with om­ni­scient sad­ness mankind’s abil­ity to com­mit hor­rific acts. Naivo’s Be­yond the Rice Fields fol­lows the tu­mul­tuous history of nine­teenth-cen­tury Mada­gas­car. 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.

For Tsito, the ef­fects of vi­o­lence come early in life, fol­low­ing an at­tack by a war­ring tribe that de­stroys his for­est vil­lage like a plague of “evil red crick­ets.” The vil­lage men are mur­dered and the women and chil­dren are sold into slav­ery.

At nine, Tsito is pur­chased by a trav­el­ing trader and taken to his new home in Sa­ha­soa, a lush, ru­ral area. Tsito is treated kindly and grows up with the trader’s daugh­ter, Fara. He is al­ways aware, how­ever, that he is a slave, par­tic­u­larly when Fara re­minds him of that fact.

Though the novel cov­ers a broad swath of top­ics, the al­ter­nat­ing per­spec­tives of Tsito and Fara an­chor the story through decades of change. Tsito’s in­tel­li­gence and abil­ity to learn new skills serve him well, even amid tur­moil, and he is ul­ti­mately able to earn back his free­dom. His love for the beau­ti­fully head­strong Fara is en­dur­ing; their re­la­tion­ship evolves from class con­scious­ness and un­cer­tainty to true in­ti­macy and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

The im­pe­ri­ous cru­elty of the coun­try’s na­tive Sov­er­eign Queen and the pit­ting of Mala­gasy against each other are equally tragic and ap­palling. “Sub­ver­sives” are sub­jected to cer­e­mo­nial poi­son­ing rit­u­als or hurled off jagged cliffs.

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 whomever holds power at the mo­ment.

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