Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trente Arpents by Ringuet

Technically, Trente Arpents didn't win the 1940 Governor General's Award for fiction, the translation of it did. However, as I understand French, it seemed silly to read the translation when I could read the real thing, though granted, it did take a lot more time. Additionally, I always have to balance between making sure I understand every work vs. interrupting the flow of the novel.

Trente Arpents tells the story of Euchariste Moisan, a Québec farmer as he matures, raises a family, and is in the end, confronted with modernity and the depression of the 1930s. The book starts slowly, depicting the life of the typical farmer in a small rural village. One interesting note, Ringuet writes his dialogue in the vernacular, so some familiarity with Canadian French is helpful. This edition also contained a helpful glossary.

The book is extremely well-written and Ringuet takes his time to describe throughly and vividly each scene. To the reader, both Ringuet's and Moisan's profound attachment to the land (la terre) comes across very strongly. For Moisan, it is the centre of his existence in every dimension. At the same time, one has the sense that Ringuet longs for a pastoral past that is being subverted and destroyed by modern technology. Ringuet also touches on this by depicting the immigration of experience of Québecois who move to the U.S. As a consequence, they lose not only their way of life (farming), but in addition, their language as their spouses and children generally only speak English.

A series of misfortunes, some of his own making, confront Euchariste. His eldes son dies. The new notary runs off with all of his savings, and he engages in a poorly thought-out lawsuit (on the advice of his lawyer) to gain back land he had previously effectively given to his neighbour. However, worst of all, he is effectively dispossessed by his 2nd eldest son, who takes control of the farm.

The novel ends depressingly, as Euchariste is condemned to work as a night watchman in an American factory, isolated from his homeland and the world of agriculture. He is totally disconnected from the familiar.

Overall, this is an excellent novel, and Ringuet's critique of modernity and industrisalism still ring true today.