In this interview well-known Malagasy writer and novelist Michèle Rakotoson tells Abhay K., the guest editor of Global Literature in Libraries Initiative for #MadagascarLitMonth about her novel Lalana translated into English by Allison Charette, her forthcoming novel and her favourite Malagasy writers.
Abhay K.- Tell us about your book Lalana which has been translated into English, but not yet published.
Michèle Rakotoson –Lalana is about the last journey of a musician, living with AIDS, to the sea and to death. And this is a particularly important book for me, because it is the one I wrote to stay strong while my partner was dying of cancer.
I wrote it as a very long modern tale-story, on the theme of Orpheus’ last journey, in which he descends into hell, but also as the journey of one of our favorite heroes: “Milaloza”, the young man who defies misfortune and succeeds. He leaves the city, returns to his deserted village, enters the kingdom of darkness and void …
Abhay K. What were challenges and surprises you came across while writing this book? How long did take to complete it?
Michèle Rakotoson -This book took six years of my life. I did not come out it unscathed, rather the opposite very serene. It made me “grow” and to know how to say and often think of a phrase from a hymn: “misaoraan’iZanaharynanomeahytombon’andro. Thank you to the Lord who gave me extra life. Lalana is a song which after years of silence comes back to life.
Abhay K. What’s your next book project? Can you please tell us more about it?
Michèle Rakotoson -My next book is titled: Ambatomanga, silence and pain and it talks about the arrival of the colonial army in Madagascar in 1895. And it is the war of annexation, seen by different characters: one French soldier, a young Malagasy doctor, an enslaved African and an old Malagasy gentleman, like four crossed reflections.
Abhay K. Who are your favorite Malagasy writers?
Michèle Rakotoson -The greatest of course is for me: the novelist Emilson Daniel Andrimalala, by his side: Clarisse Ratsifandriamanana, but above all my great-grandfather, the evangelist Ramahandry Rainijohnson, who wrote many hymns, which are still sung in the temples: like “Aza manadino ahy, ry MpiainoVavaka – do not forget me O Lord, you who hear prayers.
Michèle Rakotoson, a holder of DEA in Sociology, was awarded Grande Médaille de la Francophonie by the Académie Française in 2012, Grand Prix of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific awarded by ADELF in 2006, and Commander of Malagasy Arts and Letters. She worked for 25 years at RFI where she was successively manager of the news competition: “les Inédits de RFI-ACCT” (former name of the OIF), created the RFI-Témoin du monde literary prize, and was Head of the Audience Relations Department. At the same time she worked as the literary manager of the magazine “Revue Noire”, a role which enabled her to discover and launch authors such as Kossi Efoui, Kangni Alemdjorodo, Jean Luc Raharimanana, Naivo and Dominique Mainard. Now back in Madagascar, she is the founder and Honorary President of the Operation Bokiko, which is working to restart publishing in Madagascar. In the same context, she closely follows young writers and young people in the literary world, whom she trains in writing. She is also an editor-consultant for the business magazine L’Expansion de Madagascar. She wrote ten novels, five plays, short stories and hundreds of chronicles. Her next novel Ambatomanga, silence and pain is scheduled to be released in Paris in May 2022.
Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including The Magic of Madagascar (L’Harmattan Paris, 2021), The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020), and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review, Asia Literary Review among others. His ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into over 140 languages. He received SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress, Washington DC in 2018. His forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, have won KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award 2020-21.