“Fires, fevers, forests”, by Marie Ranjanoro: Malagasy magic against French guns

Surrender of Malagasy rebels to the French army, in Toamasina, September 25, 1947.

“Fires, fevers, forests”, by Marie Ranjanoro, Laterit, 230 p., €18.

The red earth. The highlands. And the forest, dense and vibrant. Marie Ranjanoro, born in Madagascar in 1990, sets her first hallucinatory novel shortly after the start of the 1947 anti-colonial uprising. The Great Island there is the sound of a thousand voices.

Born “in a forest of arms that (THE) passed from mat to mat and from house to house.Ivo and Voara are brought up by their mothers, but also by all the women in the village. “Before, dreams and reality didn’t have that sharp distinction that we learn to sharpen with age”, says Voara, immediately creating a storybook atmosphere. Twice a year, Ivo’s father, a vazaha (a European), comes to buy vanilla from them. The child is troubled by this pale face, the only one that reflects her features. Going one day in search of it with her friend, she discovers her country ravaged by intensive rice cultivation, with the aim of “Feeding France” – but also, here and there, children who strangely resemble him.

We lose track of Ivo and Voara for a moment to follow that of Pierre Gallois d’Haurousse. Returning from Saigon, Indochina, the sadistic and sickly young French lieutenant is sent “pacify” Madagascar. Where the French authorities speak of “trouble”, there are about a hundred settlers and non-independence Malagasy massacred by the insurgents, and between 11,000 and 100,000 Malagasy victims of bloody repression. Staff Sergeant Sow, a Senegalese skirmisher, must watch over D’Haurousse, whose attacks of malaria frighten the troops. Their curious tandem announces the device of the writer: to tell the Malagasy insurrection through a plurality of looks, mirroring what was the colonization of the island.

See as well : The Malagasy uprising of March 30, 1947

Apart Nour, 1947, by Jean-Luc Raharimanana (Le Serpent à plumes, 2003), rare are the fictions dedicated to this historic event, little taught at school and little known to the generations born after Madagascar’s independence in 1960. To restore its he tragic thickness, Marie Ranjanoro multiplies the tracks in a fiction inhabited by memory, the Malagasy oral tradition and its cosmogony. Feminist and warrior novel, Fires, fevers, forests can also be read as the story of a hunt “in the heart of darkness” in the company of a European soldier and his African watchman. In Madagascar, the army is “haunted by black magic” supposedly used by the rebels, lurking in the forest. D’Haurousse is responsible for finding “dead or alive” a woman with three breasts named Telonono. This witch-guerrilla would live recluse in the depths of the woods in the company of about fifty bandits, starting fires and repelling the French troops by means of talismans, charms and potions.

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