In this interview, novelist Jean Luc Raharimanana tells Abhay K., the guest editor of Global Literature in Libraries Initiative for #MadagascarLitMonth about his latest novel, Revenir, being translated into English and German, why did he write it, how long did it take to write it, surprises he came across while writing it and his favourite Malagasy writers.
Abhay K. Tell us about your book which has been translated or is being translated into English.
Jean Luc Raharimanana – This is my latest book “Revenir” published by Editions Rivages in 2018. A translation project in English and German is ongoing for this book. The German translation is already in progress, the English translation requires more time, and above all requires finding a publisher.
Abhay K. Why did you write this book?
Jean Luc Raharimanana – This is a project that I had in mind for a very long time. I wanted to write my father’s childhood. Along the same lines of writing, I had to understand my own childhood before tackling my father’s. Why did I have such a childhood bathed in happiness and he, in suffering and loneliness? It was also a way of understanding, for myself, my taking up writing, the genesis of this strange thing of isolating yourself and giving so much importance to fiction.
Abhay K. What were challenges and surprises you came across while writing this book ? How long did it take to complete it?
Jean Luc Raharimanana – The biggest question for me was to determine the status of the book. Autobiography or fiction? Told in the first or third person? In the end, I opted for fiction even though the book broadly belongs to the autobiography genre. For the consistency of the story, I had to distance myself for a moment from the chronology, from certain characters, from memories, sometimes confused with dreams, sometimes mixed with desires. Some testimonies contradicted each other, I had to make a choice. Which memory to keep? I also realized during the writing that I brought to life a real journey in Malagasy history through my character Hira, for him the times of dictatorship, and for his parents and grandparents, the time of colonization. Then how to combine personal history and collective history? It was therefore necessary to document myself hard enough to be as close as possible to the truth. It took me over seven years to write the book.
Abhay K. What would you like the readers to know or appreciate more about this book ?
Jean Luc Raharimanana -I would like readers to realize the importance of the question of childhood, and of poetry that saves us.
Abhay K. What’s your next book project ? Can you please tell us more about it ?
Jean Luc Raharimanana -I don’t have a title for this next book yet, but it’s a rewriting of the myth of Iboniamasiboniamanoro. It is quite advanced already. I expect to finish it in a year, or a little more. I am going to summon the characters that I find important from all Malagasy mythologies, characters who would come from all corners of the island, from South to North, from East to West, passing through the central lands. There would be Ravato of course, the powerful rival of Ibonia, there would be Zatovotsinataonjanahary, the one who refuses all creation, there would be Tsingory, the dancer, there would be Isilakolona, the half-tree man, protected from the gods, and there would be Itsitanantso, the being who cannot stay on one land, Isarotrolahy, who refuses all the husbands offered to her, etc … I want to write the Malagasy Mahabharata.
Abhay K. Who are your favourite Malagasy writers ?
Jean Luc Raharimanana -Rabearivelo. Always. His poetry. His madness. His unconditional love for literature. And the fact that he wrote in both languages, and mastered both, Malagasy and French. But I also really like Jean Jacques Rabemananjara, Esther Nirina, Andry Andraina, and Ranja Zanamihoatra.
Jean Luc Raharimanana was born in 1967 in Antananarivo. He has a DEA in literature and civilizations. Raharimanana worked as a freelance journalist at RFI, then taught French, before immersing himself in literature. He has published twenty books including Nour, 1947, Comeback and Weave. In 2013, he founded his theater company, SoaZara. He makes poetic, photographic and musicals installations. He performed in Bayreuth, the city of Wagner, at the Kunst und Kulturhaus Neuneinhalb, 2021. He founded the musical trio 8.5 Kalam with the musicians composers Jean Christophe Feldhandler and Vivien Trelcat. In 2021, with the poet Nassuf Djailani, he founded the publishing house PROJECT’ÎLES which promote Indian ocean literature. He writes for the cinema and collaborates in particular with the directors Maéva Ranaivojaona and Georg Teller. He wrote the voice-over for the film Zaho Zay. In 2020-21, he collaborated in the writing of the scenario of the film ” École de l’Air ” by the great filmmaker Robin Campillo.
#MadagascarLitMonth is guest edited by poet-diplomat, Abhay K.:
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.