12. Suzanne (Anais Barbeau-Lavalette)

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.55.42 PMSuzanne was a beautifully written, creative fictional story of the author’s maternal grandmother.  She researched, imagined and pieced together a life lost to her family.  She wrote the story trying to recreate her grandmother’s life after discovering a selection of pictures after her death in 2009.

This novel was written in French by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and later translated into English by Rhonda Mullins.  I am happy that it was part of the Canada Reads 2018 long-list or I may have missed this rich narrative altogether.  I also loved how Coach House Books published Suzanne with thick, quality paper – the same paper used when they published Fifteen Dogs which was the 2017 Canada Reads winner.

After reading The Book of Eve, last week, the similarities were obvious.  Both tales are set in Montreal (or at least part of Suzanne) with a strong, female characters that struggled against the expectations of society.  While Eva ran away from her spouse after her son was grown, Suzanne escaped parenthood, marriage and her role as a daughter while seeking her freedom, creativity and independence.  Suzanne was an artist and had created both poetry and paintings.

The story is told by Suzanne’s grand-daughter.  It is written in short snippets of text, broken down into segments of time as the author recreates Suzanne’s independence during the Quebec revolution, women’s liberation and civil rights campaigns.  Three generations are forever impacted by her absence and her grand-daughter weaves a fascinating family history.

More details are available in an article, Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s Book Suzanne explores the meaning -and cost- of freedom as published in the Montreal Gazette.

Both the novel and article leave the reader thinking about Suzanne.  I would definitely recommend taking some time to read this unique creative history of a an independent woman who gave up her family for her freedom.  although Suzanne was not part of the Canada Reads Short List, I do think that this is an “eye-opening” story which would be great to pick up… after you read the short list!

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