“Stone Court”, by Johary Ravaloson: an unwavering quest for justice

Behind the reputation, the actions

“Stone Court”, by Johary Ravaloson: an unwavering quest for justice

Behind the reputation, the actions. A senior civil servant, Léon Ramora, with his wife Irina and their three children, forms a bourgeois and respected family in Antananarivo. The Ramoras have servants, a large car and a piano that sits in the middle of their living room. On Sundays, they appear at the parish. The high walls of their patrician home nevertheless hide a dark secret: years ago, without his wife's knowledge, Léon Ramora, transgressing his status as a father, subjected his eldest daughter Lila to sexual violence.

When, exhausted by anguish, pain and loneliness, the teenager tries to escape, this time it is the violence of society as a whole which falls on her. Because Lila has opened up about her trauma to the one and only person who listens to her: Lys, a young woman with whom she made the mistake of falling in love. Their relationship, considered a perversion, makes them criminals who must be sent to prison for one or reformed through exorcism then exile for the other. Let's hide this incest that we cannot see...

It is a taboo, an ultimate crime that Johary Ravaloson tackles – and in a brilliant way – with his new novel, Court of Stones. A news item that occurred in March 2020 in Antananarivo triggers in the writer the urgency to resort to fiction, even if he is aware of the limits of the latter: “When the disturbances are silent and hidden, reversing things is almost impossible . As difficult as reversing the flow of water or a legend,” he remarks in the preamble. Nevertheless, incest does indeed take place on the Big Island, even if it remains an “unthinkable violence” (*) for Malagasy society, more inclined to castigate minorities than those guilty of sexual crimes.

Skillfully constructed by the author around several voices, the novel allows us to delve into the psyche of the different characters while raising multiple questions. What goes through the mind of a father capable of perpetrating incest on his child? Can a mother remain blind to the crime repeated under her roof by her husband? How can a family be built around silence, which is necessarily deadly for everyone? How can the victim free himself from shame to the point of finding the audacity to denounce? Why does society have such a hard time caring for victims, punishing perpetrators, and preventing crimes?

Possibilities of appeasement or even repair

As the problem becomes embodied in the characters, we become aware of its complexity. The writer manages to expose the father's denial in turn ("How could he have harmed Lila? Honorable and of good society, he was offended that anyone imagined that he could rape - moreover his daughter (…) They had a special relationship."), the sincerity of the mother ("A hellish tumult then rose in the mother's mind that she had as best she could silence in the face of her daughter's dismay. Can - perhaps even that she had ignored it for a longer time and that it had hidden from her during these years the disorders in her house") before showing her subsequently devoured by shame and finally tempted by revenge.

Johary Ravaloson also explores, without excluding any, the possibilities of appeasement or even reparations offered to his heroine by the legal sphere, the medical world, spirituality or even the traditional rites of women when Lila finds herself at her grandmother's house in the countryside, as if in the heart of a gynoecium.

Because it is the women who, throughout the pages, prove to be the main key to reading this novel. By rallying us to their strength, their determination, their resilience, by painting inspiring portraits of them, the writer avoids the pitfall of the advocacy novel. Her rich, precise and vibrant writing allows us to see these women as much as to feel them in the heart of the lush nature of Madagascar, symbol of the ever-renewing cycle of life.

Thus, successive revelations shake the entire Ramora family, but it is quite natural that we continue to walk alongside Lila, following her in her flight paths and her unwavering quest for justice. Another image will attract the attention of readers: the lamba, originally a mortuary cloth, which Lila's weaver ancestor will transform in her great wisdom into a banner of peace. Between the beginning and the end of the book, Lila, Lys her companion, Irina the mother will find a way to break the threads connecting them to the past to finally invent the framework of a new existence. Free and chosen. “Every struggle begins with words and must restore their meaning. Only then can words, without distortion or corruption, change things. »

Author of half a dozen books, including Vol à vive, distinguished by the 2017 Ivory Prize, Johary Ravaloson, 58, has written a novel with magnificent feminist overtones, in other words profoundly humanist.