About the Author

Sheila Fischman

Sheila Fischman is a member of the Order of Canada and has a doctorate from the University of Waterloo. In 1999, she received an honourary doctorate from the University of Ottawa. A two-time Governor General’s Award winner, Fischman has translated from French to English more than a hundred novels by such prominent Quebec writers as Michel Tremblay, Jacques Poulin, Anne Hébert, François Gravel, Marie-Claire Blais and Roch Carrier. She is a founding member of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada and has also been a book columnist for the Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette. In 2008, Fischman was awarded the prestigious Molson Prize for her outstanding contributions to Canadian literature.
Originally from Saskatchewan, Fischman currently resides in Montreal.

Books by this Author
Crossing the City

Crossing the City

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Crossing the City ebook

Crossing the City ebook

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A Crossing of Hearts

A Crossing of Hearts

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A Thing of Beauty

A Thing of Beauty

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Am I Disturbing You?

Am I Disturbing You?

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An Appropriate Place

An Appropriate Place

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Atonement

Atonement

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Bambi and Me

Bambi and Me

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Excerpt

Winner of the 1998 Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation

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Bambi and Me ebook

Bambi and Me ebook

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Birth of a Bookworm

Birth of a Bookworm

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Crossing the Continent

Crossing the Continent

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Cruelties

Cruelties

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For My Country/'Pour la Patrie'

An 1895 Religious and Separatist Vision of Quebec set in the Mid-Twentieth Century
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Fugitives

Fugitives

A Novel
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Good Life

Good Life

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How Levesque Won

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Love Alone

Love Alone

A Novel
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My Stories, My Times
Excerpt

Chapter 11

“THE MONARCHIST FROM QUEBEC”

When I was visiting England with Aline and our daughter, France, our high commissioner in London informed us that the next day at Buckingham Palace the Queen would be receiving a group of two hundred First World War veterans who would be happy if a Canadian minister was also in attendance. Aline and France said that it was a golden opportunity to see the famous royal residence up close, so I agreed with pleasure to join the veterans for the occasion.

The next morning, there we were at Buckingham Palace. Protocol demands that the Queen first meet “a member of her Privy Council” before seeing the veterans, and so we were ushered into another room—the high commissioner, Aline, France, and myself. The Queen had been informed that she was to meet a minister, but my name had not been mentioned. Over the last eighteen months, Aline and I had had the opportunity to meet members of the royal family five times, which was a lot for French Canadians!

Suddenly a wide door opened and the Queen appeared, accompanied by Prince Philip. Seeing me, she exclaimed, “You again!” I instantly replied, “I am the monarchist from Quebec.” Coming from a province of 7 million inhabitants, to suggest that I was the only monarchist in Quebec was perhaps not very polite. But with all the grace for which she is known, Her Majesty simply smiled.

As we were on vacation, we left London for Scotland, taking the central Highland route north through majestic scenery. Then, surprise! We arrived at Balmoral, where the Queen has her summer residence. At the castle gate there were many tourists, and the royal flag was flying over the tower, indicating that the sovereign was in residence. France said, “Papa, announce yourself! Perhaps we can visit this castle too?” But I didn’t want to, and we continued on our way. A few kilometres outside the castle, we stopped in a village for gas. I was on the sidewalk when someone called to me from the other side of the street. “Aren’t you Chrétien from Canada?” To which I replied, “And aren’t you Sir Martin Charteris, Her Majesty’s private secretary?” Sir Martin then asked me, “Why don’t you come and take tea with the Queen at the castle?” I said, “No, thank you, Sir Martin, we’re expected elsewhere.” Few of us have refused to take tea with the Queen, but I feared I would in the end be perceived as a “Royal Nut.”

Prince Charles had said that I was part of royal folklore, and the Queen recounted two anecdotes from this same folklore, told to her by her parents, King George VI and the Queen Mother, about another francophone Canadian.

When they visited Montreal in 1939, the Queen Mother was seated next to the very colourful Mayor Camillien Houde at a grand banquet, and she remarked that he was not wearing the chain of office that mayors usually wear under certain circumstances. His reply: “Your Majesty, I only wear it on special occasions!”

On an earlier occasion, Camillien Houde was proceeding along Sherbrooke Street with a royal visitor, the future King Edward VIII, and the crowd was enormous. The Queen told me that the mayor informed the Prince that some of the spectators had actually come for him, the Prince of Wales. The royal family found that our colourful mayor Camillien was decidedly very funny. Didn’t Montreal’s ex-mayor Denis Coderre have a bit of Camillien Houde in him?

After these few anecdotes, I hope you can see that the royal family is made up of people who like to enjoy themselves, just like the rest of us!

 
Chapter 12

IN DEFENCE OF FREE TRADE

When I first entered Canada’s Parliament in 1963, the matter of commercial relations with the United States was a very hot topic in the debates. That is still true today, and it’s not surprising. Even early in the last century, in 1911, Sir Wilfrid Laurier lost an election because of his position on commercial reciprocity with our southern neighbours.

Automobiles produced in Canada were expensive because of the small size of our domestic market, and those we imported were even more costly because of very high import tariffs. In 1965, after months of negotiations, the Auto Pact with the United States was finally signed. This pact was a sectoral free trade agreement in an area that was very important for both countries.

It was important for Canada to ensure that our share of jobs in this sector was proportional to our overall population. Maintaining our level of employment was the aspect of the deal that would be most scrutinized in Parliament and the press. In general, the agreement slightly favoured Canada, but the two countries both benefited, and both were satisfied. The price of cars fell slightly and consumer choice increased; the revenue the government received from excise taxes also unavoidably decreased.

Every time there were protectionist impulses on either side, the ministers of trade in each country had to find an ad hoc solution.

The debate on the possibilities of free trade with the United States had been at the heart of political battles ever since Laurier, as much for the Liberals as the Conservatives. Under Pearson, I had been in the internationalist camp of Mitchell Sharp, who at the 1966 Liberal Party conference declared himself opposed to the economic nationalism of the former finance minister, Walter Gordon.

On their side, the Progressive Conservatives held a leadership convention in 1983, following the resignation of Joe Clark. His post was up for grabs because in a vote at the biennial party convention, he had enjoyed the support of only 66.9 percent of the delegates, and he had himself set a high bar, pledging that he would not continue as leader unless he achieved 70 percent (not 50 percent plus 1). And the issue that was most hotly debated was free trade with the United States. John Crosbie, the former minister of finance, was in favour, and the one who fought most fiercely against it was, strangely enough, Brian Mulroney.

As we all know, Brian experienced his road-to-Damascus moment and became a champion of free trade with the United States, a conversion that led to the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement in 1990. The 1988 election was dominated by the debate on free trade. Public opinion was divided about half and half; the Progressive Conservatives were for free trade, while the opposition Liberals and New Democrats were against. Brian Mulroney had succeeded in making free trade the linchpin of the election, and in that context the Liberals lost both the historic debate and the election that hinged on it. Luckily for me, I had left politics in 1986 and was not a candidate in 1988, or I would have been in trouble. In fact, after having been one of the advocates of free trade along with Mitchell Sharp, I would have found it difficult to join the forces opposing it—all the more so in that the interests of my voters in Mauricie were aligned with the signing of such an agreement. The region included seven paper mills, the Alcan aluminum smelter, and softwood lumber operations, all of which required better access to major markets.

The issue of free trade quickly caught up with me in 1993. I was elected prime minister of Canada on October 25, 1993, and the night of my election I was informed that Bill Clinton would be phoning me early the next morning. I was at my cottage at Lac des Piles, near Shawinigan, with my family. I told my grandchildren, come to my room because I’m going to talk for the first time as prime-minister-elect to the president of the United States.

After the usual courtesies, he said he needed me because the free trade project involving Canada, Mexico, and the United States was in great difficulty in Congress. He was convinced that it would not pass unless he could count on immediate support from Canada. I told him that I needed a certain number of amendments before we could proceed. A few hours later, James Blanchard, the American ambassador in Ottawa, contacted Eddie Goldenberg, one of my most trusted colleagues, to see what we could do. Eddie put together a committee with experts from the International Trade ministry, and began discussions with Blanchard and his associates. All that, forty-eight hours after my election, and six days before my taking the oath.

Shortly afterwards, to my great surprise, I received a telephone call from Ross Perot, who had been an independent candidate in the American presidential election in 1992. He had won 21 percent of the vote and had probably caused the defeat of another Texan, George H. W. Bush. He had campaigned against free trade, and he told me that he was sure that I was the only one who could block it, and that if I did he would erect a large monument in my honour in Texas. I replied that I was not very interested in having a monument in Texas, because no Texan could vote for me in the next election.

Presidents Clinton of the United States and Salinas of Mexico had made concessions to us on water, excluding it from the agreement, and on subsidies, dumping, the environment, and working conditions. Thus, after our conversation on October 26, 1993, President Clinton was able to pass through Congress the bill on the North American Free Trade Agreement with the support of all the Republicans, half of his Democratic allies . . . and me.

I’m very curious to see what President Trump will do, given his protectionist ideas and the Republican majorities in Congress and the Senate. It will also be interesting to see what the pro–free trade Republicans of 1994 will do with President Trump’s protectionism. When the Trudeau government consulted me, I told them it seems obvious that since the Auto Pact has existed since 1965 and NAFTA has been functioning quite well since 1994, I think Trump will find that it’s not so simple to unmake an omelette.
 

 
Chapter 13

“ALTERNATIVE FACTS” OF HISTORY

In February 2017, after he was sworn in, President Trump complained that the press was not telling the truth when they reported that the crowds for his inauguration were much smaller than they had been for President Obama in 2009. Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to the new president, came up with the expression “alternative facts” to define their view of the situation. In a sense she was right, because if you claim something ad nauseam, even if it is not true, the “alternative facts” will impose themselves over time as accepted truth, even for many historians. Such myths become almost impossible to correct; too many people have incorporated them into their own stories as undisputed factual elements.

One night I received a phone call from my grandson Olivier, who told me how embarrassed he had been by a story that was served up to him at school about an agreement between the federal government and the provinces (minus Quebec and Manitoba), in the matter of the Charter of Rights and the patriation of the Constitution—and about my presumed role in the process. Apparently he was told that I’d spent the night in the corridors of the Château Laurier, betraying Quebec. Poor Olivier had felt humiliated.

I explained to him that after six o’clock that evening I met with no one from the provincial delegations; I spoke at 11 p.m. with Garde Gardom, the minister responsible for British Columbia, and at six o’clock the following morning with Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan. I had Olivier confirm with Aline that I was home before 11 p.m. As he had to do an assignment on the subject, he wrote the version I gave him, and his learned history teacher gave him the glorious grade of zero. Alternative facts, endlessly repeated since the dramatized packaging of the “night of the long knives,” are what all young people are taught in Quebec schools today. However, a documentary film called Canada by Night was produced in 1999 by Luc Cyr and Carl Leblanc; it exists, and it brings together the testimonies of the major players during those hours. It totally discredits the myth about that famous night. Despite the painstaking research and fact checking in the film, its limited distribution in a climate that is blind to the truth cannot compete with “alternative facts” repeated ad nauseam both before and after.

All this took place more than thirty-six years ago, and I’ve been saying the same thing ever since, as have all my colleagues. But no matter, the truth cannot prevail.

After that day’s meeting was adjourned, Romanow, Roy McMurtry (from Ontario) and I conferred and developed a compromise plan. I thought that the federal government ought to accept the overriding clause—the controversial “notwithstanding” clause—and I told them to go out and convince the provinces. But my job was even harder: I had to convince my boss, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After dinner I went to 24 Sussex, and attempted without success to make the case to the prime minister and the five other ministers present. Around ten o’clock, Trudeau took a phone call, and when he returned his mood had changed. He asked me a few more questions before adjourning the meeting.

The other participants left, but he kept me back and told me that he could accept my plan if we obtained the support of seven provinces, representing 50 percent of the population; in other words, the amending formula proposed by the provinces and accepted by Quebec. Trudeau, however, had always wanted Quebec and Ontario to have a right to veto. What had happened to make him suddenly accept the notwithstanding clause that in the past he had always rejected?

The phone call that he’d received was from Premier Bill Davis of Ontario, his unconditional ally from the beginning. Davis had said that he accepted the compromise I had proposed at the end of the afternoon, and that he “would abandon ship if Mr. Trudeau did not agree to it.”

In fact, it was Bill Davis who broke the deadlock, but he did not get the credit, which was a pity. What broke up the group of eight provinces that had tried to derail the whole project was René Lévesque’s acceptance of an idea proposed by Trudeau that very morning in an attempt to undo the stalemate: the prime minister had suggested that Quebec might hold a referendum on the patriation of the Constitution and on the inclusion of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposition would allow René Lévesque to retake the initiative against Trudeau with this referendum, and none of the other provincial politicians wanted to oppose either a charter of rights or patriation, except Manitoba premier Sterling Lyon.

Fifteen years later another referendum was held in Quebec, amid an atmosphere of the end justifying the means, and Lucien Bouchard and the other bards of separation created out of whole cloth the supposed “night of the long knives” to incite resentment. Six days after the defeat of the Yes side, the intruder who gained access to 24 Sussex by night in order to assassinate me had apparently decided to do the job with a knife. Fortunately Aline was there to save my life. Hallelujah!

Meanwhile, and sadly, the alternative facts at the origin of many unwise moves are as deeply rooted as ever. Myths really do die hard.

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News from Édouard

News from Édouard

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On the Proper Use of Stars
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The sun was shining on that 19th day of May in 1845 when the Erebus and the Terror were preparing to cast off at Greenhithe, their reflections shivering on the greenish water of the port where floated garlands, handfuls of rice, and small dead fish. A crowd of a good ten thousand was assembled on the docks to witness the departure of Sir John Franklin, hero of the Arctic, who was setting off once again to conquer the mythic Northwest Passage, as always for the greater glory of the Empire. On the deck of the Erebus, in full regalia, the explorer was holding aloft a coloured handkerchief so that his wife Jane, Lady Franklin, could easily make him out in the midst of his inferiors, who were waving handkerchiefs of black silk. A brass band struck up the first bars of “God Save the Queen,” the chords joining the cheers and farewells; emotion was nearly at its peak. One might have thought, as a shrewd observer noted in the newspaper the following day, that England was celebrating the explorer’s triumphant return, not his departure. A dove flew lazily across the sky and touched down on the mast of the Terror, observing all the agitation with its head tipped a little to one side before settling comfortably, as if to hatch an egg. All agreed that it was a good omen.
 
Then the ships lumbered off to tackle unknown seas. The spectators went home. The hero of the Arctic, who was having difficulty recovering from a nasty bout of influenza, descended to his cabin, where he sipped a little tea and before long dozed off. Soon sailors, aides, and officers from the two ships returned to their respective posts. On the deck of the Terror, Francis Crozier, second-in- command of the expedition and commander of the aforementioned ship, stood alone, looking back at the V-shaped wake left in the water. Hearing a muffled sound behind him on the deck, he turned around and nearly stepped on the dove, which had tumbled from the mast. He took one wing between his thumb and forefinger: still warm, the limp bird stared at him with its round eyes. Quite unceremoniously Crozier flung the creature into the sea. The surgeon’s dog, Neptune, a rather ungainly mixture of beagle and wolfhound, pretended for a moment that he wanted to dive in after the bird, but changed his mind and proceeded instead to circle three times before he lay down on the deck and let out a loud fart.

25 May 1845
 
Scarcely one week has gone by since we weighed anchor, and the country that I left seems now to be farther away than the Moon and the stars above our heads, ever the same and ever different.
 
The sea is calm and the ships are sound. The Terror is my oldest friend, perhaps my only friend on this voyage when I cannot count on the presence of Ross, with whom I crossed the boundaries of Antarctica and into whose hands I would have agreed without hesitation to place my life once more. I insisted in vain that we have on board some of those whalers who know the treacherous waters of the Arctic better than any lieutenant of the British Navy, brave men to whom we owe most of the discoveries of this land of ice. Alas, the crew put together by Fitzjames is in the image of the man who chose it: elegant, enthusiastic, sure of itself, but sorely lacking in experience. Of the twenty-one officers – in the exclusive service of whom there are no fewer than eight men who I hope will not balk when the time comes that they must pull off their white gloves to scrub the deck or to furl the sails – only Sir John, the two ice masters, and I myself have ventured before into one or the other of the Polar circles. The most curious know nothing of the Arctic, may God have mercy upon us, save what they have read in the accounts of Parry and of Franklin himself, of which they recite passages with the same fervour as if they were verses of the Gospels. They are excited, like schoolboys being taken to the circus.
 
Scarcely one week and three times I have been summoned to dine on board the Erebus, Sir John seeming to believe that his duties include planning exquisite suppers and seeing to it that his officers do not suffer from boredom. In the morning he has brought to me small cards upon which it is written in careful script that “Sir John Franklin, Captain of the Erebus, requests the honour of the presence at his table of Francis Crozier, Captain of the Terror” – as if I were likely to confuse him with the captain of another vessel and present myself mistakenly on a ship where I was not expected. The men who are to bring him my reply wait, soaking wet, apparently astounded at such elaborate courtesies, while I turn the card over to write my answer, following which they row back in order to deliver the precious bit of paper. I must recommend that the lookouts agree upon a code so as to avoid these jaunts that transform our seamen pointlessly into messenger boys.
 
One dines well on the Erebus. Five bullocks that accompanied us on board the Baretto Junior, the supply ship, were sacrificed in a veritable hecatomb and prepared in various fashions. Yesterday we had a sole meunière, a splendid rib roast with buttered carrots and potatoes, and custard with berries, all served on silver plates struck with the arms or the monogram of the owner. The ridiculous is not pushed to the point of requiring that I supply my own cutlery, but I do use that of Sir John, who has apparently brought more than is strictly necessary.
 
We converse cheerfully about the voyage that is beginning, as if it were a hunting expedition with hounds, though I doubt that most of these gentlemen have ever killed any game more formidable than a partridge or, possibly, a fox. Most, like DesVoeux, harbour a boundless admiration for Sir John, hero of the Arctic, whose accounts of his courageous deeds had marked their childhood, the man who ate his boots and, contrary to all expectations, had been able to survive on his own in a wild and hostile place.
 
At the sight of this happy gathering, of the valets who serve and take away the dishes under their silver lids, of the wines that accompany each new course, one might think he was at a supper at the country home of a gentleman whose livestock had experienced a particularly productive year or who had just married off his daughter. Except that there is no lady present – although it is true that they must withdraw in any case once the last bit of food has been swallowed, to leave the gentlemen to their cigars and port – and the candelabra are fixed firmly to the table, where there are silver goblets in place of crystal stemware. Without forgetting of course that once the merrymaking is over, rather than requesting that my carriage be brought, I ask for oarsmen to be called who, at the end of a voyage that can require as much as two hours on the rollers of the Atlantic, will take me back to the Terror, which I think of as the only home I’ve ever had.

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Ostend

Ostend

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Red Moon

Red Moon

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Roch Carrier's La Guerre Trilogy

Roch Carrier's La Guerre Trilogy

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Ru

Ru

by Kim Thúy
translated by Sheila Fischman
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I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns.
 
I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of the two million soldiers deployed and scattered throughout the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two.
 
I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles. The purpose of my birth was to replace lives that had been lost. My life’s duty was to prolong that of my mother.

My name is Nguyen An T?nh, my mother’s name is Nguyen An Tinh. My name is simply a variation on hers because a single dot under the i differentiates, distinguishes, dissociates me from her. I was an extension of her, even in the meaning of my name. In Vietnamese, hers means “peaceful environment” and mine “peaceful interior.” With those almost interchangeable names, my mother confirmed that I was the sequel to her, that I would continue her story.
 
The History of Vietnam, written with a capital H, thwarted my mother’s plans. History flung the accents on our names into the water when it took us across the Gulf of Siam thirty years ago. It also stripped our names of their meaning, reducing them to sounds at once strange, and strange to the French language. In particular, when I was ten years old it ended my role as an extension of my mother.

Because of our exile, my children have never been extensions of me, of my history. Their names are Pascal and Henri, and they don’t look like me. They have hair that’s lighter in colour than mine, white skin, thick eyelashes. I did not experience the natural feelings of motherhood I’d expected when they were clamped onto my breasts at 3 a.m., in the middle of the night. The maternal instinct came to me much later, over the course of sleepless nights, dirty diapers, unexpected smiles, sudden delights.
 
Only then did I understand the love of the mother sitting across from me in the hold of our boat, the head of the baby in her arms covered with foul-smelling scabies. That image was before my eyes for days and maybe nights as well. The small bulb hanging from a wire attached to a rusty nail spread a feeble, unchanging light. Deep inside the boat there was no distinction between day and night. The constant illumination protected us from the vastness of the sea and the sky all around us. The people sitting on deck told us there was no boundary between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea. No one knew if we were heading for the heavens or plunging into the water’s depths. Heaven and hell embraced in the belly of our boat. Heaven promised a turning point in our lives, a new future, a new history. Hell, though, displayed our fears: fear of pirates, fear of starvation, fear of poisoning by biscuits soaked in motor oil, fear of running out of water, fear of being unable to stand up, fear of having to urinate in the red pot that was passed from hand to hand, fear that the scabies on the baby’s head was contagious, fear of never again setting foot on solid ground, fear of never again seeing the faces of our parents, who were sitting in the darkness surrounded by two hundred people.

Before our boat had weighed anchor in the middle of the night on the shores of Rach Gia, most of the passengers had just one fear: fear of the Communists, the reason for their flight. But as soon as the vessel was surrounded, encircled by the uniform blue horizon, fear was transformed into a hundred-faced monster who sawed off our legs and kept us from feeling the stiffness in our immobilized muscles. We were frozen in fear, by fear. We no longer closed our eyes when the scabious little boy’s pee sprayed us. We no longer pinched our noses against our neighbours’ vomit. We were numb, imprisoned by the shoulders of some, the legs of others, the fear of everyone. We were paralyzed.
 
The story of the little girl who was swallowed up by the sea after she’d lost her footing while walking along the edge spread through the foul-smelling belly of the boat like an anaesthetic or laughing gas, transforming the single bulb into a polar star and the biscuits soaked in motor oil into butter cookies. The taste of oil in our throats, on our tongues, in our heads sent us to sleep to the rhythm of the lullaby sung by the woman beside me.
 
My father had made plans, should our family be captured by Communists or pirates, to put us to sleep forever, like Sleeping Beauty, with cyanide pills. For a long time afterwards, I wanted to ask why he hadn’t thought of letting us choose, why he would have taken away our possibility of survival. I stopped asking myself that question when I became a mother, when Dr. Vinh, a highly regarded surgeon in Saigon, told me how he had put his five children, one after the other, from the boy of twelve to the little girl of five, alone, on five different boats, at five different times, to send them off to sea, far from the charges of the Communist authorities that hung over him. He was certain he would die in prison because he’d been accused of killing some Communist comrades by operating on them, even if they’d never set foot in his hospital. He hoped to save one, maybe two of his children by launching them in this fashion onto the sea. I met Dr. Vinh on the church steps, which he cleared of snow in the winter and swept in the summer to thank the priest who had acted as father to his children, bringing up all five, one after the other, until they were grown, until the doctor got out of prison.
 
I didn’t cry out and I didn’t weep when I was told that my son Henri was a prisoner in his own world, when it was confirmed that he is one of those children who don’t hear us, don’t speak to us, even though they’re neither deaf nor mute. He is also one of those children we must love from a distance, neither touching, nor kissing, nor smiling at them because every one of their senses would be assaulted by the odour of our skin, by the intensity of our voices, the texture of our hair, the throbbing of our hearts. Probably he’ll never call me maman lovingly, even if he can pronounce the word poire with all the roundness and sensuality of the oi sound. He will never understand why I cried when he smiled for the first time. He won’t know that, thanks to him, every spark of joy has become a blessing and that I will keep waging war against autism, even if I know already that it’s invincible. Already, I am defeated, stripped bare, beaten down.
 

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Some Night My Prince Will Come

Some Night My Prince Will Come

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Talking Bodies

Talking Bodies

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The Bicycle Eater

The Bicycle Eater

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The Black Notebook

The Black Notebook

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The Blue Notebook

The Blue Notebook

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The Douglas Notebooks

The Douglas Notebooks

A Fable
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The Duchess and the Commoner

The Duchess and the Commoner

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The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant

The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant

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The First Quarter of the Moon

The First Quarter of the Moon

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The Heart Laid Bare

The Heart Laid Bare

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tagged : gay
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The Hockey Sweater

The Hockey Sweater

by Roch Carrier
translated by Sheila Fischman
illustrated by Sheldon Cohen
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tagged : hockey, classics
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The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories

The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories

by Roch Carrier
introduction by Dave Bidini
translated by Sheila Fischman
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The Obese Christ

The Obese Christ

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The Painter's Wife

The Painter's Wife

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The Perfect Circle

The Perfect Circle

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The Red Notebook

The Red Notebook

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tagged : lesbian
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Thérèse and Pierrette and the Little Hanging Angel

Thérèse and Pierrette and the Little Hanging Angel

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These Festive Nights

These Festive Nights

by Marie-Claire Blais
introduction by Lisa Moore
translated by Sheila Fischman
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Twelve Opening Acts

Twelve Opening Acts

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Vi
Excerpt

CATINAT   WE LEFT VIETNAM with a close friend of my mother, Hà, and her parents.

Hà is much younger than my mother. At the beginning of the 1970s in Saigon, she was the perfect modern woman in the American style, with her very short dresses that showed off the slanted, heart-shaped birthmark high up on her left thigh. I remember her irresistible platform shoes in the hallway of our house, which struck me as decadent, or at least gave me a new perspective on the world when I slipped them on. Her false eyelashes thick with mascara transformed her eyes into two spiky-haired rambutans. She was our Twiggy, with her apple-green and turquoise eyeshadow, two colours that clashed with her coppery skin. She was unlike most of the young girls, who avoided the sun in order to set themselves apart from the peasants in the rice fields, who had to roll their pants up to their knees and endure the violent bright light. Hà bared her skin at the swimming pool of the very exclusive Cercle Sportif, where she gave me swimming lessons. She preferred American freedom to the elegance of French culture, which gave her the courage to participate in the first Miss Vietnam competition, even though she was an English teacher.

My mother did not approve of her choices, which went contrary to her status as a well-educated young woman from a good family. But she supported her by buying her the long dress and bathing suit that Hà would wear on stage. She had her practise walking in a straight line along the tiled floor, balancing a dictionaryon her head, as she’d seen women do in films. My mother treated her as if she were her big sister,and shielded her from gossip. She allowed Hà to takeme with her to the chic boutiques on rue Catinat, andto drink a lime soda with her foreign friends. Hàmarched along this street with its grand hotels like aproud conqueror. The city belonged to her. I wonderedwhether my mother envied her this ease thatcame from the compliments raining down on herfrom her teachers and her American colleagues. Thelatter celebrated her beauty with gifts of chocolate bars,hair curlers, and Louis Armstrong records, whereasthe Vietnamese looked on her dark complexion as“savage.” More than once, my grandparents asked mymother to halt my swimming lessons with Hà. I suspectthat my mother disobeyed them and kept Hàclose to us because she hoped I’d learn to be beautiful. Unfortunately, that time with Hà in Vietnam was tooshort—or my apprenticeship, too slow.

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