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Return to the Enchanted Island

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Published in France in 2012; published in translation by Amazon Crossing on November 5, 2019

“Love, more often than anything else, ends. The thing that makes it seem to us to transcend all else is that when it dies, those who had it in their lives become like dead men.” Those accurately depressing words are spoken out of the blue, and to his wife’s dismay, by Ietsy Razak, the main character in Return to the Enchanted Island. The title sounds like the reboot of a bad television show, but Enchanted Island is the name given to Madagascar in a 2005 documentary.

Ietsy Razak lives in the family home (Anosisoa) on the Enchanted Island with Lea-Nour, his wife of fifteen years, and their children. Ietsy enjoys a life of ancestral privilege. His antics as a child caused his transfer from the local Jesuit school to a boarding school in France run by Benedictine monks. His aunt and uncle live in Paris, and from them he learned about his absent mother. For the most part, Iestsy chases girls and bombs out of school, becoming “an illegal immigrant through sheer indifference,” while explaining to his friends that “doing nothing, for him, was a philosophical project.”

The novel includes an origin myth, explaining that the original Ietsy fell to earth and, alone on the enchanted island, created statutes for company. Breath took pity and breathed life into the statutes but took the breath away from some of them to punish Ietsy for a sexual transgression. The living statutes became known as the Vazimbas, who are now considered the earliest inhabitants of the mountains of central Madagascar. The origin myth evolves into the story of The-Lord-Who-Never-Gets-Wet and his search for a sacred lake made from tears, leading to the Vazimba migration.

I enjoyed the origin myth and at least some of the story in France. After Ietsy returns to Madagascar, the story is uneventful. Ietsy spends most of his time taking note of how privileged he is in comparison to most of his fellow citizens, while reminiscing about or adding to his varied sexual conquests. He often states, perhaps with ironic intent, that he is “blessed by the Gods and Ancestors,” but he seems to regard the blessing as entitlement. We learn how Ietsy rediscovers and marries Lea-Nour but the relationship is dull.

Apart from the origin myth, Return to the Enchanted Island tells us surprisingly little about Madagascar. We learn that the “cultured Malagasy elite had readily given up their mother tongue,” particularly when they are in the presence of foreigners so as not to give offense. We learn that the elite work hard to perpetuate their elite status, but that’s true everywhere. We learn very little about the non-elite. We hear that Ietsy has returned to the “City of a Thousand Circumstances” and the “City of a Thousand Lovers” and the “City of a Thousand Rites” and several similarly glib descriptions, yet we learn little of the city itself.

So while the story provides insight into Madagascar’s oral traditions and the role of Vasimbas in modern life, it does little to paint a picture of contemporary Madagascar. Perhaps that’s because Johary Ravaloson lives in France, which is the novel’s primary focus. Ravaloson can write about anything he pleases, but the title implies that Ietsy’s return to his native land might change him in some way, or that he might change Madagascar. If he comes of age in Madagascar by finding his place in the world, as blurbs suggest, I didn’t notice.

Ietsy’s time in France, viewed as a portrait of a wasted life, is more interesting. Ietsy’s efforts to avoid ID checkpoints that are the bane of illegal immigrants give the story some dramatic meat. Competing perspectives on love, including a French lover’s contention that “love that was based on trust should not be confined within a couple, but should instead allow each individual to blossom and give the other person strength to explore the world and life,” add a splash of pop philosophy to the narrative. The portions of the novel that address Ietsy’s return to Madagascar, however, are too problematic to make the book a success.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS
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This is a challenge to read and it ha a very unlikable protagonist in Ietsy.  However, it's the only novel I've read from Madagascar so props to the publisher for the translation into English.  It basically follows the life of a privileged man from his home in Madagascar to a dissolute life in France and then back home again.  A lot is packed into this novella.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. It's worth a read but it doesn't give as much flavor of the country as you might expect.
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I was eager to read this book - my first set in Madagascar, winner of the Grand Prix de l’Océan Indien, apparently only the second to be published in English from Madagascar. The book is about Ietsy Razak, namesake of the first man created in the world according to Malagasy mythology. The scion of a well-to-do family, Ietsy is steeped in his privileged upbringing, focused on himself, and lackadaisical in his approach. Spoiled as a young child, following a tragedy, he is sent off to France and continues his foray into living a life bereft of any optic into others, except his own narcissistic self, followed by bouts of depression as Ninon eludes his desire to “own” her. His return to the enchanted island of Madagascar and his subsequent marriage to Lea-Nour doesn’t change him much…making him a rather unlikeable character. I found the parts of the book that covered Malagasy mythology and culture interesting and informative. But the storyline meandered, i had to work on keeping track of where i was, and the transitions were “muddy.” Overall, i consider this an okay read, with a suggestion for folks to read the book, if not for the storyline but for the opportunity to learn more about Madagascar and its mythology and culture and expand our global view into countries we don’t get much of an opportunity to read about in the English language. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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"Return to the Enchanted Island" by Johary Ravaloson and translated by Allison Charette.

This books is only the second book to be translated from Madagascar to English, and has won the Prix du Roman de l'Ocean Indien prize. 

The book is divided into three massive chapters- Ietsy Razak's early life in Madagascar, his life in a boarding school in France and then his return to the "enchanted island", as Madagascar is also lovingly named. The story was okay for me, I pushed through almost did not finish but I wanted to know what the life of a privileged boy was like for "The Blessed One, The Great Ancestor". The writing style was really not for me. I enjoy a story line that is less complex and a lot easier to follow. There is also a lack of a solid plot and the prose so dense and complex that I get lost in the story line. I am certain there would be others that would really enjoy the complexity of the Madagascar ancestral stories intermingled with current day juxtaposition. 

Thank you Netgalley and Amazon for the ARC ebook for an objective review.
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DNF 20%
I'm not sure if I should blame the format I've been reading but I'm finding that each paragraph of this novella is very dense, so much so that I often could not make sense of what I was being told. The writing also uses a lot of terms that don't really fit with what is being addressed or described.
The somewhat disjointed yet impenetrable prose also implemented brackets in an incorrect way: for example at 11% there are about 100 words between two bracket...this didn't really add anything to the style or the story.
Maybe other readers will find it easier to navigate this heavy narrative but I'm going to give this a hard pass.
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This is a beautiful retelling of Madagascar's origin story. I loved it and couldn't pit it down. I was captivated from the first page. Absolutely beautiful. 

I would like to thank netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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