Beyond the Rice Fields

Written by Allison M. Charette (trans.) Naivo
Review by Elicia Parkinson

This powerful novel follows the lives of Fara and Tsito, her father’s slave, from their childhood through their adult lives, the alternating chapters telling both of their stories through their unique perspectives. It’s the 19th-century in Madagascar, during a time of political terror and violent upheaval as both Christian missionaries from Britain and French industrialists invade the country all at once. The unlikely bond Fara and Tsito formed as children (in spite of their difference in class) is broken as their lives are taken down markedly different paths, yet they remain connected spiritually, frequently remembering each other in some of their darkest moments.

While the novel tells a heartbreaking set of storylines, it is a lost opportunity to have woven a beautifully written book. Some passages are wonderfully written, but most of the story is devoid of emotion or connection. The period of Queen Ranavalona’s horrific reign was one of intensity and violence, and yet for a few occasions near the end of the book, much of the historical context is superficial at best.

This is Naivo’s debut novel, and it shows the possibility of greater things to come. One of the striking details about this book is it is the first book from Madagascar to be translated into English. Naivo captures a profound relationship between two people and how vastly our lives and experiences change on our various paths, while also illuminating the Malagasy experience.