news | Tuesday August 10, 2021
The annual event Le 12 août, j’achète un livre québécois / Buy a Québec Book Day is here in two days! For those of you living in Québec, check out this great initiative by Fondation pour l’alphabétisation / the Literacy Foundation. Buy a book and deposit them in a participating bookstore (map here). Over the years, this initiative has distributed more than 860,000 books to help prevent children from developing reading and writing difficulties.
Readers outside of Québec can encourage the initiative by donating online via The Gift of Reading program or sending books to participating Québec bookstores. Not sure what to send? We got you covered!
Talonbooks specializes in publishing exceptional Québec literature in translation, including novels, plays, essays, and poetry for English readers in Canada and around the world. The list below highlights a few translated works to get you as excited as we are for the 12 août event.
1. A Covenant of Salt by Martine Desjardins and translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel
Since the death of her parents in 1791, Lily McEvoy has lived as a recluse in her isolated Armagh County manor. But tonight, the heiress is expecting company – Master Anselm, the legendary stone cutter who has transformed the estate’s abandoned salt mine into an immense funerary monument to the memory of the McEvoy family.
Lily is sniffing powdered salt in the attic as she summons the shadow of her father, the cruel Irish Rear Admiral Magnus McEvoy, hero of the capture of Québec City and absolute master of his estate, and of her mother, the mysterious Laurence, she of the webbed feet who emerged from the river of a stormy night.
But the same salt that has preserved Lily’s memories is desiccating her. Her obsession with the past now risks transforming her into a pillar of salt – crystallized by the family’s abominable secrets. These secrets, and the instrument of her revenge, she will finally reveal to Anselm over their precipitous evening meal.
2. Crossing the Continent by Michel Tremblay and translated by Sheila Fischman
Crossing the Continent takes readers on a quintessential North American journey. It is 1913, at a time of industry and adventure, when crossing the continent was an enterprise undertaken by so many, young and old, from myriad cultures, unimpeded by the abstractly constructed borders and identities that have so fractured our world of today.
This, the first in Tremblay’s Desrosiers Diaspora series of novels, provides us with the back-story to the characters of Tremblay’s classic Chronicles of the Plateau Mont-Royal, particularly of his mother, “The Fat Woman Next Door …” and his maternal grandmother, who, though largely uneducated, was a voracious reader and introduced him to the world of reading and books. Works such as Tintin adventure comics, mass-market novels, and The Inn of the Guardian Angel, which fascinated the young Tremblay with its sections of dramatic dialogue, inspired the many great plays he would eventually write.
Born in a working-class family in Québec, novelist and playwright Michel Tremblay was raised in Montréal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood. His novels and plays have been adapted and translated into dozens of languages throughout Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East.
3. Mégantic: A Deadly Mix of Oil, Rail, and Avarice by Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny and translated by W. Donald Wilson
Winner of the 2018 Prix Pierre-Vadeboncœur, Mégantic examines the causes and after-effects of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. Through exhaustively researched investigative journalism, Saint-Cerny reveals how the tragedy was not an accident, but rather was knowingly caused by powerful people and institutions far removed from the town itself.
The fruit of five years of work and interviews with nearly a hundred people from various backgrounds, including victims and their relatives, Mégantic tells the story of the disaster in three acts – before, during, and after – in a scathing critique whose ultimate goal is to prevent the preventable.
4. Orwell in Cuba: How 1984 Came to be Published in Castro’s Twilight by Frédérick Lavoie and translated by Donald Winkler
Orwell in Cuba chronicles freelance journalist Frédérick Lavoie’s attempts to unravel the motives behind the mysterious appearance of a new translation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, formerly taboo in Cuba, just ahead of the country’s twenty-fifth International Book Fair. Lavoie works to make sense of how Cubans feel about the past, present, and future of their island – and how the political regime is adapting, or not, to life in the twenty-first century.
Lavoie’s intertwined quests give readers the unique experience of following a suspenseful trail while at the same time becoming increasingly familiar with Cubans’ relationship to the regime and their strategies for coping with the island’s often challenging living conditions.
Born in Chicoutimi in 1983, Frédérick Lavoie is a writer and freelance journalist. He has contributed to many Canadian and European media outlets, reporting from more than thirty countries. In his journalism, he explores the many faces of humanity in troubled times.
5. Searching for Sam by Sophie Bienvenu and translated by Rhonda Mullins
What happens when your only companion disappears out of the blue? You’re left adrift. Mathieu lives on the street. His main companion is his pitbull, Sam – the one connection he retains in the world, helping him to stay alive. So when Sam vanishes, Mathieu starts to spiral. As he frantically searches for her, his past begins to re-emerge in flashbacks, revealing the tragedies of his life.
Sophie Bienvenu is a Québécois writer born in Belgium. After studying visual communication in Paris, she settled in Québec in 2001 and quickly established herself as a successful blogger. Bienvenu’s writing takes its readers on an emotional journey, an intense exploration of profoundly human characters, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
6. Impurity by Larry Tremblay and translated by Sheila Fischman
Impurity begins with the disappearance of bestselling author Alice Livingston. Confronted with this much reported disappearance, her philosopher husband Antoine revisits their past relationship: open and liberated on the outside, but constrained and even deviant on the inside. The news of the day (the death of JFK Junior, the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk, etc.) announced by the television running in the novel’s background gradually becomes significant in the lives of the protagonists – as revealed in Alice’s last book.
A playful and macabre narrative tour de force, structured like a matryoshka doll, Impurity weaves a complex web of interlocking narratives in multiple voices and a variety of forms.
Larry Tremblay is a writer, director, actor, and specialist in Kathakali, an elaborate dance theatre form which he has studied on numerous trips to India. He has published more than twenty books as a playwright, poet, novelist, and essayist, and he is one of Québec’s most produced and translated playwrights.
7. The Grand Melee by Michel Tremblay and translated by Sheila Fischman
Michel Tremblay’s The Grand Melee is the fifth novel in the Desrosiers Diaspora novel series.
It’s May 1922, and preparations are in full swing for the marriage of Nana and Gabriel, which will take place the following month. There’s just one problem: Nana’s wedding dress has yet to be bought. Nana’s mercurial mother, Maria, torn between her desire to measure up as a mother and the inescapable constraints of poverty, wonders how to pay for the wedding. And she’s not the only one battling demons – the thought of the upcoming reunion unsettles every member of the large and dispersed Desrosiers family. While the wedding invitations announce a celebration, they also stir up old memories, past desires, and big regrets.
8. Against the Wind by Madeleine Gagnon and translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott
Unable to cope with or even recognize the residual effects of his trauma in adolescence, Joseph retreats into an increasingly abstract world, one in which he must confront what he calls his “visions.” And when he hears of the death of his natural mother, this brings to the surface memories he had hoped were buried deep within him, and precipitates the form of various crises to come, particularly as he discovers and makes use of the artistic abilities revealed to his family during his psychiatric evaluation.
After many more hardships, the young man does find meaning to the absurdities of life, ironically in the asylum, where he meets a virtuoso pianist whose condition prevents her from continuing to exercise her talents. They heal together through their mutual love, which will soon subsist upon nothing but memory and absence. During mournful years of raising his son alone, in his extensive adversaria, Joseph sets out to reconcile the contradictory themes in his life, including abandonment, madness, love and death.
Born in Amqui, in Gaspésie, Madeleine Gagnon works in all genres, combining passion, lucidity, erudition, and political commitment, boldly transgressing the boundaries between poetry and prose.
9. Synapses by Simon Brousseau and translated by Pablo Strauss
Short-listed for the 2019 Governor General’s Award for Translation, Synapses depicts a vast society of differing psyches, all unique, idiosyncratic, and interconnected. Simon Brousseau’s beautifully crafted literary snapshots, each written in a single, stylistically accomplished sentence and featuring a different character, will linger with readers.
Simon Brousseau was born in Québec City and now lives in Montréal, where he teaches literature at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. His dissertation on the work of David Foster Wallace and the question of literary influence was published by Éditions Nota bene in 2020.
10. The Weight of Snow by Christian Guay-Poliquin and translated by David Homel
A badly injured man. A nationwide power failure. A village buried in snow. A desperate struggle for survival. These are the ingredients of The Weight of Snow, Christian Guay-Poliquin’s riveting new novel, longlisted for the 2020 Sunburst Award. After surviving a major accident, the book’s protagonist is entrusted to Matthias, a taciturn old man who agrees to heal his wounds in exchange for supplies and a chance of escape. The two men become prisoners of the elements and of their own rough confrontation as the centimetres of snow accumulate relentlessly.
Surrounded by a nature both hostile and sublime, their relationship oscillates between commiseration, mistrust, and mutual aid. Will they manage to hold out against external threats and intimate pitfalls?
Christian Guay-Poliquin was born just north of the U.S. border in Saint-Armand, Québec, in 1982. He believes the art of the narrative is grounded in the demands and details of daily life, situated in a world rife with experience. Running on Fumes, his first novel, was published by Talonbooks in 2016.
Happy Reading! And happy 12 août!