Jean-Luc Raharimanana was born in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, in 1967. By 1987 he had already been awarded the Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo Poetry Prize for his early poems. Two years later he completed a degree in Literature at the university in his native city and joined a theatre group for which he wrote his first play, »Le Prophète et le Président« (1989; t: The prophet and the president). The setting for this satire about two well-known Malagasy politicians’ great obsession with power is an asylum where the two mentally ill men try all means to establish their rule over the other patients. The piece was awarded the Tchicaya-U’Tamsi Prize by the Inter-African theatre competition, yet the actual performance was forbidden by Madagascar’s governmental authorities. Not long thereafter Raharimanana’s novella »Le lépreux« (t: The leper) was awarded a prize, and lent its name in 1992 to an eponymous anthology of award-winning short stories. The author then went to Paris on a grant from the French foreign radio and studied at the Sorbonne and the Institut National des langues et civilisations orientales. After completing his studies he worked as a journalist and French teacher.
Raharimanana’s stories in his collection »Lucarne« (1996; t: Skylight) are marked by a rich tension between style and content. Through lyrical, sensuous language influenced by oral tradition, the author portrays not only the beauty of nature but poverty and squalor especially of the shanty towns. Raharimanana himself refers to his style as a »violation of smoothness«. He was to receive the Grand Prix Littéraire for his following volume of short stories, »Rêves sous le linceul« (1998; t: Dreams under the shroud). Here the focus is on the Rwandan genocide and the bloody, abject insurgency in Madagascar in 1947. It is precisely this episode that Raharimanana chose – alongside other facts overlooked from the island’s history – as a subject-matter for his first novel, »Nour, 1947« (2001).
In 2002, when Raharimanana’s father, a history professor at the University of Antananarivo, was arrested and tortured after presenting a radio programme about pre-colonial conflicts on the island, the author resigned from his teaching position. He devoted himself entirely to defending his father and was successful in exerting public pressure, for example through petitions to the French president Chirac. In his most recent story, »L’Arbre anthropophage« (2004; t: The man-eating tree), he presents an unembellished portrait of Malagasy history and at the same time denounces dictatorship, corruption and all forms of suppression. In this formally heterogeneous text, legends and old superstitions are juxtaposed with contemporary political events up to the point of the national uprising following the disputed presidential elections in the year 2001 and his father’s arrest.
Raharimanana, whose work has been translated into German, English, Italian and Spanish, lives in Paris.
© internationales literaturfestival berlin