Tag Archives: David Homel

The Realm of Coming-of-Age |Review of “Bitter Rose” by Martine Delvaux/Translated by David Homel (2015) Linda Leith Publishing

BitterRose

We all have those traumatic moments during our lives where elements seem beyond our control. And even if we never discuss them at great lengths, they haunt our consciousness forever. No doubt, these moments do need to be considered by us once in a while and that is the beauty of the coming-of-age novel. Reading one allows us to remember certain moments in our lives and reflect on them AND to realize we were not alone in our predicament.  Hence Bitter Rose by Martine Delvaux is such a great example of a coming-of-age novel.

Page 2-3

On the evening of July 1st, my mother would wake me up to watch the colourful explosions of the fireworks, I was half asleep at my bedroom window so high in the sky that it floated. That was before the village. That was before my second life. I was still wearing my blue flannelette pajamas, I carried my pink blanket with the satin ribbons everywhere I went, it was cool to the touch, its silky weave was full of bumps, a kind of popcorn stitch you make if you knit very very tight. In that world, men were pale stars in the blind stain of the universe. People said that life was a thing you had to face on your own, you couldn’t expect anything from men, or not very much. There was the story of the one who had left. That was no secret for us, it was a secret for other people, a story full of holes. People said he was tall, he had green eyes like a lake whose bottom is invisible, algae between you toes and soft, gluey mud you sink into far enough to be afraid you’d get stuck. People said it wasn’t the first time, he’d done that kind of thing before, he’d known his share of girls. People said he wore wooden shoes and came from houses that waltzed upon the water. People said he had yellow hair and that he must have gone back to his country, where everyone had yellow hair the way he did.

There is a beauty in the ambiguity of this story. We witness the protagonist go from one situation and one place to another in different stages of her life yet we really get no concrete idea about her life. Her life is somewhat of a muddle and she is trying to figure it out yet quite can’t. And we as readers are along for the ride as we witness her confusion.

Page 20, 21

My village was the kind of village where people were proud to say that everyone knew everyone else. It was a village like any other, like any other place where people keep watch and claim they love one another. It was that way, and sometimes worse than that. You had to work hard to protect a secret. You had to be skilled, and sneaky, you had your hands full. It was a little like carefully building the plot of a detective novel, and afterward, for weeks, you lived off the effort.

It was the kind of village you were better off forgetting, and even when you tried, you were haunted by the hot dog stand on the main street and the swimming pool at the campground that was stuck out by the exit to the highway, where villagers streamed when July rolled around. Families left the grid of the centre of the village and set up shop one kilometre away, at Camp Kittawa, one next to the other in tents and trailers, they spent their weeks’ vacation there and of course every weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday.

***

As the summer days went by with the chlorine treatments, the skin of my nose would peel off in slices, worn-out skin that I pulled off, underneath was the pale pink of fresh flesh. We would forget the sunscreen and our hats. For the duration of the summer, the children turned into crustaceans forced head first, their arms flapping, into boiling water. My stained face was discoloured, like an old car whose doors had been eaten away by rust.

While it is a short novel (only 105 pages) it is a complex and gritty read at times. There are thoughts and emotions (especially angst)  that are complex and they are given detailed descriptions to ponder over. It is a read that shouldn’t be dismissed or breezed over for sure and one that should be re-read again.

Page 53-54

School was over, and I lived in the heat of hay and mosquito bites. My mother complained about a referendum, then brightened up when an actor became a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and when we decided to boycott the Moscow Games, since everything was a mess everywhere. She spread out the brochures on the kitchen table, and sung out the praises of horseback riding, sailing classes, mountain climbing, but I shook my head and categorically refused her idea, no matter how quality the campers were said to be. I told her, “The problem isn’t leaving here, it’s being with people and having to sleep, eat, wash, play and talk with them, all the time, rain or shine.” She said I was a hopeless case.

I remembered the summer of 1976, that summer of perfection, the Olympic Games on television, Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10s, the whole world watched in amazement, the contortions of that small body, her little ponytail held in place by a soft cloud of cloth, the arc of her back, she was like a feather, an angel. Soon we missed the little girl with the dark eyes on the beam in Newsweek.

Bitter Rose by Martine Delvaux/Translated by David Homel is a perfect example of a coming-of-age novel. It is well-written and complex. Not a quick read but one that engages the mind with thoughts and reflections.

Link to Linda Leith’s webpage for Bitter Rose

Profound Descriptions from a Different Reality | Review of “Kuessipan” by Naomi Fontaine – translated by David Hornel (2013) Arsenal Pulp Press

I recently came across a small item hidden in the stacks of my local library. Kuessipan by Naomi Fontaine vaulted me into the world of the Native Innu people of northern Quebec. The descriptions used in the book are vivid and bold. And they completely engrossed me to another reality than my own.

Page 9

I’ve invented lives. The man with the drum never told me about himself. I wove a story from his gnarled hands and his bent back. He mumbled to himself in an ancient, distant language. I acted like I knew all about him. The man I invented – I loved him. And the others lives I embellished. I wanted to see the beauty; I wanted to create it. Change the nature of things – I don’t want to name them – so that I see only the embers that still burn in the hearts of the first inhabitants.

The blurb on the back of this book uses the phrase “with poetic restraint and documentary-like eye” to describe the writing inside it and that is the perfect phrase to talk about the writing. We are given an insider’s eye to life with the modern-day Innu in small manageable doses and learn so much about them.

Page 28-29

In the big cities, it’s easier to be nobody. The people on the street know nothing about you. They glance at you, no more, then think of something else. A few months back, you left the reserve and the village that knows you, your family and your friends, and went to live like a stranger in the emptiness of the city. Your apartment belongs to you alone, along with the used furniture you bought for next to nothing. you have a round wooden table that sits in one corner of the kitchen and two empty chairs. A sofa covered in blue velvet. The fridge rumbles and freezes your food instead of keeping it cold. The bedroom window looks out on the storefront of the building next door. At night, you hear the cars going by on the expressway. It’s different than where you’re from.

There is some shock value here. Descriptions of scenes that will stun out of many people’s comfortable existence.  They are carefully crafted sentences of dire scenes.

Page 38

Not many people are out walking during the day, just some women with their strollers. A fifteen-year old girl is dragging her round belly from a blue house to a beige one. She has circles under her eyes. A long night spent waiting for her boyfriend. The date the welfare cheque arrives will determine whether he’ll show up. A pickup truck moves slowly up Pashin Street. Doors stay open all day long from June to September. At night, kids run in packs. Cases of twenty-four. Shouting late at night, fighting early in the morning. The doors are locked now. In winter, snowmobile tracks run down both sides of the street. When the wind is cy, no one goes out walking; car engines never stop running. At the end of Kamin Street, there’s a little girl with almond eyes. Raspberries grown behind her house in blue springtime when the asphalt dries. This is the centre of her world.

This isn’t an easy read at times. Paragraphs need to be read and reread to grasp the complete meanings. But there are profound thoughts here that have universal meanings and need to be said.

Page 92

It’s not easy to try to understand the life of a person you’ve never met. In your fruitless attempt, you hit a wall so violently you lose all understanding. Better stand back from the carved stone if you don’t want to crush the man underneath. You recognize yourself in the name, but you don’t know where it comes from or anything about his existence. You regret coming here: an unknown woman on dead ground. You’d be better off leaving.

There is an ancient belief among the Innu: They say that if a father never saw his child, the child has a gift.

Kuessipan by Naomi Fontaine is a brilliant piece of literature. It describes a difficult reality that many of us are unfamiliar with yet many of the feelings described are very familiar to us.

Link to Naomi Fontaine’s blog (in French)

Link to Arsenal Pulp Press page for Kuessipan