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There are so many more authors from Quebec I would like to read, but there will be more time for that at a later stage. However, I could not leave Quebec without reading one of Clark Blaise’s Montreal Stories, which I bought in Canada last June. Although Clark Blaise was born in North Dakota and raised in Pittsburgh, he spent thirteenth years, from 1966 to 1978, living in Montreal. Montreal is thus a place he knows well and the story “North” reflects this.
“North” is a story of belonging, identity and culture. The story’s narrator is thirteen and has just moved with his parents from Pittsburgh to Montreal where they are living with his uncle’s family. Although Phil had always believed that he was born in Cincinnati and that is name was Porter, he dicovers that he was in fact born in Montreal and that his name is actually Carrier. In Phil’s origins, we can feel the tension present in Quebec: Phil’s father is a French Québecois, while is mother comes from the West Coast. This duality presents problems as Phil is beginning his Montreal education.
As soon as the story begins we can feel this tension expressed in the use of the French and English language. Belonging is an important matter, even for school kids: you are either part of the French-speaking community or the English-speaking one. Surnames also tell a lot about you and Carrier is a good Canadian name as Thérèse tells Phil. However, Blaise is also ironical about this and seems to point to the fact a name is just that and not an essential representation of identity. Indeed, names can be changed as Phil’s own experience reveals. This irony is even more present in the remarks made by Phil’s tutor, Thérèse Aulérie:
“Mon vrai nom. Commences avec ‘o’, like this, eh? . . . C’est le vrai francais, mon nom, de la France, pas d’ici.’
. . .
‘O’Leary,’ she corrected. ‘Ca c’est le nom de mon grandpère.”
At thirteen, Phil is torn between integrating a new culture and the culture represented by his mother who feels like a stranger in this French Québécois family.
I found this story interesting to read as it gives a clear perspective on the duality of Québec. The sense of bi-culturalism and the tensions resulting from it are really palpable.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.