Manao ahoana everyone !
This time, I have chosen a quite special book. Indeed, I have already read novels for 1 book | 1 country, and also collections of texts. I have always picked up pieces with only one author for the whole book though. But…but that was in the past, because I have recently discovered the series Miniatures, edited by the Editions Magellan et Cie and directed by Pierre Astier. It proposes collections of short stories written by five or six authors for each book, and dedicated to a different country each time. I saw the covers, I saw the résumés, and I immediately knew that I had to read at least one of these, because it seemed so relevant, so interessant and so representative. Why continue to learn about just one author per country when I can have six at a time ? I selected some in the catalogue, completing my list, and then asked you on Twitter which one I should start with . As you can see in the title, I began with Nouvelles de Madagascar and it was, really, really good.
Specific format, specific review. Or reviews, should I say. As a matter of fact, I am going to write about each text separately, and then I will give you a global opinion of the collection (if you think it is a judicious way of doing it, tell me ! or else tell me it is not, and I will try something different next time).
¤ Ambilobe, by Raharimanana ¤
Raharimanana is the author I had initially spotted and selected for Madagascar in my list ; that is why I was really glad to get the chance of discovering him in that collection as well ! In his short text, we discover through the voice of the narrator (who appears to be the author himself) the small town of Ambilobe in the northern part of the island, where he has come for a visit. This sympathetic character directly adresses to us (often saying “you”) to tell one of his travelling mishap : as he is about to head back to his home town Diégo Suarez by bush-taxi, his journey constantly gets disturbed by vagaries and annoying characters. I loved this short story for its light tone – the narrator stays incredibly calm and distant as he is boiling inside – that contrasts with the realistic picturesque of the context. By following the itinerary of the taxi, we can see the streets of a poor, ramshackle city : the roads are nearly impraticable, the houses are “shacks“, “the zebus graze among the plastic bags“… This tangible reality is unveiled along the plot, and thus emerges as a “common”, usual background for the inhabitants. More discreetly, this novel also evokes the underlying rivalry between “authentic” Malagasy people and Arab-Métis ones. All these informations, independently distilled, allow us to recompose a telling depiction of the genuine Malagasy life and make this text the perfect introduction for this collection. Besides, I also truly appreciated the author’s writing, informal and rhythmed : its gruff tone invites us to carry on reading the book, and prepares us for the following texts. A pleasure !
¤ Destins, by Jean-Pierre Haga ¤
Completely different from the previous story, but clearly as likeable, Destins introduces to us Bera, a homeless man surviving in the streets of Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo. Alcoholic and trying to eke out a living by working in marketplaces, he is someday unwillingly involved in a very important event in the History of Madagascar, that changes his life forever. This text clearly has a more social subject : here, we are talking about politics, about critical times and power struggles, but with a totally objective point of view. The character of Bera is absolutely not interested in the troubles agitating his city, and he goes through all of it without paying it attention (it is alcohol that guides him). Although, context is everything is this piece, because in it we can discover a recent history which is tumultuous, and made of conflicts and political rifts. In the background, what I recognised – I hope I did well, because nothing is ever named or dated – as the popular riots of 2009 (and more specifically the bloody episode of February 7th, when 28 persons died and nearly ten times as many people were injured as the crowd was marching on the presidential residence). And at the foreground, the story of a disillusioned man that will be driven towards a “glorious and stunning fate“ (helped by media which absurd influence over History is here presented). Once again, I liked a lot the writing style of the author, a bit quirky, efficient and fluid. An excellent short novel, that captivated me and piqued my curiosity : in a word, everything I love !
¤ Le Rebelle, by Alexandra Malala ¤
The narrator – the rebel from the title – is a young man native from the mountain plateaux of Imerina, in central Madagascar. To comply to the wishes of his parents and prove worthy of their sacrifices, he has to leave everything behind him and go study in France in order to become a pastor. To be honest, I have appreciated this text less than the others : I didn’t really catch on the author’s writing style, pretty poetic but not that much lively. To my great regret, the doubts and adventures of the main character didn’t really interested me ; I preferred following his environment than his inner thoughts. And indeed, we can here enjoy another aspect of Malagasy culture : the ancestor worship. More than simply describing with tenderness and lyricism the landscapes of the island, Alexandra Malala often uses words of Malagasy language, or proverbs illustrating the importance of elders and spirits in the dailylife. This folkloric side is unique in the collection, and fortunately gives a peculiar dimension to this text that would otherwise have left me a bit disappointed.
¤ Antananarivo, qu’est-ce que j’ai foutu tout ce temps ? by Johary Ravaloson ¤
This text genuinely took me aback : fragmented and impactful, it stands aside from the previous ones. Indeed, the author has chosen to decompose his narrative into seven shorter stories allowing us to discover, very briefly, various characters living in Antananarivo. Alternating different points of view (sometimes I, sometimes he/she) and personalities, the combination is very powerful and kaleidoscopic. Exclamations erupt, feelings are exacerbated : anger, irritation, lust, we go through a lot of states of mind and themes. Those little chunks of life give us leave to witness lies and revelations, and also another aspect of the Malagasy life : corruption. I also liked the author’s writing style that keeps renewing itself (and sometimes results in truly beautiful passages). In other words, a nice novel on a city of a thousand voices.
¤ Le Charretier et la Mercedes, by Esther Randriamamonjy ¤
Honestly, I must say that this text is the one that impressed me the less in the whole collection. Very short (eight pages and a half), Le Charretier et la Mercedes gave me the feeling of reading a tale – due to its writing mostly, and also to its title that irresistibly reminded me of a fable by La Fontaine. It tells the story of a poor man who transports things on his cart for a living, and once crosses paths with a rich Mercedes driver. Copiously insulted by this wealthy man because he is in his way, the cart driver will be the only one able to help him later. The message is shaped like an impertinent “who laughs last laughs the best”, and thumbs its nose at an elite who thinks it is okay to do whatever they want no matter the consequences. However, I didn’t really appreciate the author’s style that I found a bit flat. The characters, with their after all mousy personalities didn’t succeed in getting me into the story. A bit disappointing.
¤ Je me déserte..., by Magali Nirina Marson ¤
This one I adored, so much ! I am not even sure I will be able to do justice to it : it touched me, surprised me, captivated me… In this piece, the author invites us to meet Aina, a passionate and doubting young woman, scarred by life and its hardships. Through flash-backs and Aina’s thoughts, the story progressively goes back in time and unveils the less rosy facets of the Malagasy capital city : misery, sexual tourism, illness, social conflicts… Strong themes, served by a unique writing style. I just loved Magali Nirina Marson’s style : its perfect coherence with the character and the plot, the words of Malagasy everywhere in the text, and more than anything her made-up terms that make the writing even more lively and realistic. Everyone of the characters truly moved me, even the ones who are only evoked in a few lines. I could write for long about this incredible short story, full of humanity and emotion : I have been very happy to finish the book with it, even if I didn’t want the reading to end, and I can’t do otherwise than recommending it to you.
Alright alright, as usual this review is quite long (sorry ! I don’t know how to refrain from writing) but also simple to sum up. I very much appreciated this collection of short stories that made me wish I could read more from some of these authors in the future ; in particular Rahiramanana, Jean-Pierre Haga and of course Magali Nirina Marson. I found the format especially interesting, because it is not that easy to get hands on Malagasy writings : I have been enthralled by the Miniatures collection and I am now certain that I will read other books of its catalogue. More than that, I definitely recommend you to read Nouvelles de Madagascar as an introduction to this hidden and unfamiliar literature, for the beauty of the book itself and for the representativeness and quality of the selected texts.
> The next review will be about The dispossessed, by Szilárd Borbély.
> coll. (Raharimanana / HAGA, Jean-Pierre / MALALA, Alexandra / RAVALOSON, Johary / RANDRIAMAMONJY, Esther / NIRINA MARSON, Magali) – Nouvelles de Madagascar, éditions Magellan et Cie.
> rédigé au son de “Ry Tanindrazanay malala ô” .