Vivid stories from a Canadian literary icon, who shares a life spread across continents and immersed in books.
It’s the life that many dream of: education in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities before becoming a novelist, essayist, translator and literary curator.
But the start of Linda Leith’s journey is anything but idyllic. The daughter of a glamorous mother and a charming left-wing doctor, she is never told of her father’s psychiatric breakdown or his subsequent shock therapy for what was then called manic depression.
As this secret festers, Leith’s father uproots the family to various European cities as he reinvents himself as a corporate executive, eventually moving across the Atlantic to Montreal.
It’s there, in her first year of university, that Leith is inspired by Madame de Staël: a writer and salonnière, banished from Paris by Napoleon himself. With none of Staël’s advantages—no wealth, no social status, no château on Lake Geneva—Leith can scarcely imagine a salon, but she is drawn to Paris, and dreams of becoming a writer.
This dream fuels her education in London, her marriage and writing in Budapest, and—finally—her journey back to Montreal where she meets a community of writers and readers who she works with to transform the city’s literary scene.
As Leith publishes, translates, and curates, she also comes to terms with her troubled father and the secrets of her childhood.
A luscious read, this book will rivet readers of Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain and Tara Westover’s Educated, or anyone who has dreamed of building a cultural life.
About the author
Linda Leith was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. One of the most international of Canadian writers, she has lived in London, Basel, Brussels, Paris, Ottawa, Budapest and Montreal, where she founded the hugely successful Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of London, England, and is the author of seven books, including the literary memoirs Writing in the Time of Nationalism and Marrying Hungary, as well as three critically well-received novels, Birds of Passage, The Tragedy Queen, and The Desert Lake, all published by Signature Editions. She has also been published by Vehicule Press and ECW Press, as well as XYZ Editeur and Lemeac (in French), and Rad (in Serbian).
“If you liked memoirs by Diana Athill, Alexandra Fuller, and Madame de Staël, you'll love Linda Leith's new book.”—Mary Soderstrom, author of Concrete and Frenemy Nations
"We, in Canada, are fortunate to have such a person as Linda Leith active in the Montreal and CanLit literary scene. Her small, but vibrant publishing company produces a select amount of titles (fiction and non-fiction) highlighting Quebec’s English writers. Her very personal and highly enjoyable life essay The Girl From Dream City will doubtless be an influential book for those seeking a literary life, either as a writer or editor or publisher. Or all three."—The Miramichi Reader
"Whenever possible, Leith transformed painful, even traumatic experiences into strengths. It’s a gift..."—Montreal Review of Books
"Leith’s story is at once humbleand remarkable, a testament to exploration, perseverance and guts." —Herizons
"As this compelling memoir demonstrates, Leith built herself not simply a literary life – as a novelist, non-fiction writer and editor of a literary magazine – but also a dazzling multilingual and multinational salon in the form of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis literary festival which, under her 15-year tenure, grew to be a world-class event." —Will Aitken, author of Anitigone Undone