August 12 is Buy a Quebec Book Day – and have we got books for you!
You might already know that Talon specializes in publishing Quebec novels in translation for English speakers in Canada and around the world. We also publish plays, non-fiction, and, occasionally, poetry by Quebec authors. Talon has been publishing translations since the early days; in the 1970s, for example, Talon published Michel Tremblay’s famous play, Les Belles-Soeurs – and we’ve been publishing Tremblay’s plays and novels ever since. In fact, Talon has a 40-year history of publishing Quebec authors and translators.
The list below highlights 12 august and recently published Quebec books (in translation from French to English) – any of which we would, of course, recommend. So: read the list and “like” Buy a Quebec Book Day on Facebook – but most importantly, get out to your local bookstore this Saturday and show la belle province some literary love!
1. Anima by Wajdi Mouawad
Hot off the press!
The story begins with murder. And then the reader is immersed in violence, until over time a poetic narrative emerges that gives voice to the unseen animals around us. From the ant to the raven, from the horse headed for the slaughterhouse to the domestic cat, from the cockroach to the dove, each has its own perception, all have a singular voice. Murder and bloodshed are set against a historical backdrop of humanity’s collective violence (the American Civil War, the civil war in Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacre) when a final, monstrously violent act brings catharsis for the lead character.
Wajdi Mouawad (born 1968) is a Lebanese-Canadian writer, actor, and director. He is most known for his work in the Canadian and French theatre.
Anima has resonated with readers worldwide. It has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan. It won the Thyde Monnier Grand Prize from the Société des Gens de Lettres, the Mediterranean Prize, the Literary Prize for a Second Novel in Laval, the Golden Alga Award, the Phoenix Award (as part of the Beirut Spring Festival), and the Catalan Llibreter Prize for Foreign Novel, all in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, Anima won the Lire en Poche, a prize awarded annually in France in celebration of the paperback book. An elegant translation by Linda Gaboriau finally brings this celebrated novel to English readers.
2. Zora, A Cruel Tale by Philippe Arseneault
Newly translated into English by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, Zora is a (truly cruel) Rabelaisian fantasy – a gothic tale of the macabre and the bizarre, of black magicians and alchemists, and of the life and times of Zora Marjanna Lavanko, the daughter of a brutish tripe-dresser who dies for love. This surreal novel is set in the murky fictional domain of the Fredavian Forest, in the very real province of Karelia, then a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Many years of work brought forth this finely rendered fantasy. While some readers might be put off by the cruelty, violence, and mayhem of the text, those who persist will be rewarded with black humour and the fine display of a full range of human emotion. Despite its ornate style, the narrative has surprising pace, perhaps because the reader is busy trying to keep his or her jaw from hanging open.
The original French novel won the 2013 Robert-Cliche Prize, awarded to an author for a first novel (but not a first work). Zora is also hot off the press – Zora and Anima are our first two books of the Fall 2017 season, and both are available now!
3. A Crossing of Hearts by Michel Tremblay
August 1915. Montreal is stifled by a heat wave while war rages in Europe. The three Desrosiers sisters – Tititte, Teena, and Maria – had been planning a whole week of vacation in the mountains, to do nothing but gossip, laugh, drink, and overeat while basking in the sun. Then, reluctantly, Maria agrees to take her children along on the week-long trip to the Laurentians. The city-cloistered family finds it good to get out of town, and Tremblay’s writing remains so vivid that the reader imagines dipping into cool lake water along with everyone else.
A Crossing of Hearts continues Michel Tremblay’s Desrosiers Diaspora series of novels (a family saga set in Montreal during World War I), though it stands alone mightily. This third novel bursts with life as Nana, the young city girl, explores the natural world – and the enchanted forest of her inner, maturing self. The novel also further develops the character of Maria so that we understand her motivations more fully, and at the same time recognize nods to the history of Quebec. Translated into English by award-winning translator Sheila Fischman, A Crossing of Hearts is a true delight.
4. In Search of New Babylon by Dominique Scali
Reverend Aaron is found lying unconscious on the dusty trail to a family farm somewhere in southern Utah. His hands have been severed at the wrists. On the body are only a few Bibles and sermons. Is he a preacher or a thief? It’s impossible to say who this stranger might be without understanding those who have brought him to this desert town: Charles Teasdale, a saloon pugilist who hangs himself despite having escaped the noose nine times; Pearl Guthrie, a young saloon girl who marries the same man thirty times over; Russian Bill, an aristocrat turned rustler after killing a hundred innocent men; and an assortment of mercenaries who live on the fringe of mining towns in the American Southwest, where anything and everything is available, except what you are looking for. All the main characters in this novel are invented, except one. All the towns are real, except for New Babylon.
In this atmospheric, post–Cormac McCarthy western novel, translated by W. Donald Wilson, four disparate characters criss-cross the desert in pursuit of an impossible ideal. Along the way, these wily characters captivate and intrigue as they seek the American dream in a lawless town in the 1860s.
Read excerpts from In Search of New Babylon on Meta-Talon, and order your copy on Saturday!
5. False Starts by Louis Patrick Leroux
The fifth book on our list isn’t a novel; it’s a play. Or, rather, a series of theatrical experiments that add up to a timeless love story. Translated by Alexander St-Laurent, Katia Grubisic, and the playwright himself, False Starts presents a series of determining moments between two people stuck reliving the same scene over and over, but in unexpected ways and in different genres (from diary to dramatic dialogue, film script to sound installation). Their interdependence and fundamental inability to say how they feel about one another over twenty years – in spite of their eloquence, in spite of their creativity – constitutes the background of the ongoing spectacle of their relationship.
6. Yours Forever, Marie-Lou by Michel Tremblay
Ten years after their parents’ death in a car accident, now-grown sisters Carmen and Manon are together for one of their rare visits – and one of them is finally ready to confront their shared tragedy. Carmen is convinced it’s time for Manon to end the years of mourning, while Manon is insulted that Carmen seems to have responded so unfeelingly to such a horror. In fact – here the parents are, in living memory: Marie-Louise and Lèopold, the girls’ parents, appear onstage simultaneously; just beyond the ken of their daughters, they live out their final day. As the two daughters struggle to reconcile the events preceding the fatal crash, and as their parents play out the culmination of their sodden marriage, we discover there is more to the memory of that fatal day than anyone has admitted …
It’s another play – and it’s a classic for a reason! Freshly translated by award-winning translator Linda Gaboriau, Yours Forever, Marie-Lou was commissioned and produced in Toronto in 2015.
7. You Will Remember Me by François Archambault
Memory – personal, familial, and societal – is the central theme of this play by Governor General’s Award–winning playwright François Archambault. Translated by Bobby Theodore, You Will Remember Me follows a family’s struggle with dementia. Simultaneously, the play examines collective memory and the current state of affairs in Quebec. Archambault uses personal memory as a metaphor to explore social memory, particularly re-examining moments from the history of the Parti Québécois. Subtle, moving, and funny, You Will Remember Me shows that living completely in the present is a nightmare. Hearkening to the past, and memory, are essential for the human condition.
8. Running on Fumes by Christian Guay-Poliquin
When electricity inexplicably goes out nationwide, the mundanities of life gradually shift to the rigours of survival. In this post-apocalyptic setting, an unnamed mechanic jumps into his beat-up car and drives east, journeying 4,736 kilometres to reach his dying father. As the road grows longer, and the narrator’s exhaustion grows in kind, parallels are drawn between his own journey and Theseus’s journey through the primeval Labyrinth. However, the beast that our narrator seeks to slay might not be one of flesh and horn and blood, but instead of his own failing mental state, of his thirst for this apocalypse around him …
Translated by Jacob Homel, Running on Fumes is a road novel that carries with it influences of the genre, with their storylines of redemption through distance travelled, often in a failing world that reflects the state of the protagonist’s emotional state. It is a hazy line that delineates whether the world reflects, mirrorlike, the mind of the narrator or the narrator’s state of mind reflects the world, and there remains a level of uncertainty about the truths the narrator speaks.
9. The Envelope by Vittorio Rossi
This one is not a translation, actually; playwright Vittorio Rossi is of Italian heritage but was born in Montreal and lives and works there.
Drawn from his personal experience, Rossi’s new comedy-drama exposes the bureaucratic institution that is the Canadian film industry, and we follow the character Michael Moretti, a veteran playwright, as he struggles to get his new play, Romeo’s Rise, turned into a movie. In reference to the Charbonneau Commission, a public inquiry into the corruption of the management of public construction contracts, the envelope of the play’s title is the government’s unofficial agreement to see the project get funded. Rossi asks the question at the heart of artistic affairs: Will Moretti take the big bucks and compromise his work, or will he stand firm in his artistic and personal integrity?
10. The Watershed by Annabel Soutar
Public policy is anything but dry in The Watershed; in fact, it holds startling implications for our national identity and future. This documentary play follows an artist and her family in the struggle to chart a sustainable course between economic prosperity and environmental stewardship.
Largely constructed from original interviews, The Watershed brings to the stage a multiplicity of ideological perspectives and conflicting visions for Canada’s natural resources, and its characters speak the words of real Canadians from all across the political spectrum.
Soutar writes in and translates to and from both French and English. The theatre company she runs with her husband, Porte Parole, is based in Montreal.
11. The United States of Wind by Daniel Canty
Late 2010. From the end of autumn to the beginning of winter, Daniel Canty becomes a wind seeker, following the currents and streams of air. He and artist/driver Patrick Beaulieu travel, over ten days, from the plains of the Midwest up to Chicago, the Windy City, into the wind tunnel linking the Great Lakes, through the cities of lost industry of the Rust Belt, only to veer off into Amish pastoralia, and to the forests of Pennsylvania, Civil War land, where fracking is stirring up the ghosts of the first oil rush.
Translated by Oana Avasilichioaei, The United States of Wind is a road trip book of a different colour, mixing the tropes of road narrative, poetic fabulation, and philosophical memoir. The book’s through-line is about this emotional reality of images, the ways in which they take hold upon us and carry us back to the deep narrative of self. Canty has created a gentle road book, a melancholy blue guide written in an airy, associative prose, where images coalesce and dissipate, carried away through the outer and inner American landscape.
Read the book’s opening passages in “Prologue to the Wind” on Meta-Talon.
12. The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt by Michel Marc Bouchard
Quebec City, 1905. Two priests-to-be are ordered to deliver a letter to a controversial visitor to their city: the legendary French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. The stage is set for a battle for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers through these two seminarians: the powerful Catholic Church on one side, and the power of the divine Sarah Bernhardt – and the world of the theatre – on the other.
As part of her long career, Bernhardt – known to her loyal fans as “The Divine” – visited Canada several times between 1880 and 1917, most often visiting Montreal, but once – just once – alighting in Quebec City. It is this singular historic visit, about which little is known, that Bouchard takes as the backdrop for his play, exploring conservative and progressive veins in competition through turn-of-the-century North America, with a focus on Quebec, that province on the verge of great change.
Playwright Michel Marc Bouchard just keeps smashing it out of the park; his previous plays Tom at the Farm and Christina, The Girl King hit home around the world. Translated by Linda Gaboriau, The Divine was commissioned for the 2015 Shaw Festival in honour of George Bernard Shaw and everyone who loves the theatre.
Happy Buy a Quebec Book Day! And happy reading!