Crossing the Continent
By Michel Tremblay
Translated by Sheila Fischman
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Born in Providence, Rhode Island, to a Cree mother and a French father, Rhéauna, affectionately known throughout Tremblay’s work as “Nana,” was sent with her two younger sisters, Béa and Alice, to be raised on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Sainte-Maria-de-Saskatchewan, ... Read more
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, to a Cree mother and a French father, Rhéauna, affectionately known throughout Tremblay’s work as “Nana,” was sent with her two younger sisters, Béa and Alice, to be raised on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Sainte-Maria-de-Saskatchewan, a francophone Catholic enclave of two hundred souls. At the age of ten, amid swaying fields of wheat under the idyllic prairie sky of her loving foster family, Nana is suddenly told by her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in five years and who now lives in Montreal, to come “home” and help take care of her new baby brother.
So it is that Nana, with her faint recollection of the smell of the sea, embarks alone on an epic journey by train through Regina, Winnipeg, and Ottawa, on which she encounters a dizzying array of strangers and distant relatives, including Ti-Lou, the “she-wolf of Ottawa. ”
To our delight, Michel Tremblay here takes his readers outside Quebec for the first time, on a quintessential North American journey – it is 1913, at a time of industry and adventure, when crossing the continent was an enterprise undertaken by so many, young and old, from myriad cultures, unimpeded by the abstractly constructed borders and identities that have so fractured our world of today.
This, the first in Tremblay’s series of Crossings novels, provides us with the back-story to the characters of his great Chronicles of Plateau Mont-Royal, particularly of his mother, “The Fat Woman Next Door …” and his maternal grandmother, who, though largely uneducated, was a voracious reader and introduced him to the world of reading and books, including Tintin adventure comics, mass-market novels, and The Inn of the Guardian Angel, which fascinated the young Tremblay with its sections of dramatic dialogue, inspiring the many great plays he would eventually write.
A major figure in Québec literature, Michel Tremblay has built an impressive body of work as a playwright, novelist, translator, and screenwriter. To date Tremblay’s complete works include twenty-nine plays, thirty-one novels, six collections of autobiographical stories, a collection of tales, seven screenplays, forty-six translations and adaptations of works by foreign writers, nine plays and twelve stories printed in diverse publications, an opera libretto, a song cycle, a Symphonic Christmas Tale, and two musicals. His work has won numerous awards and accolades; his plays have been published and translated into forty languages and have garnered critical acclaim in Canada, the United States, and more than fifty countries around the world.
Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Sheila Fischman was raised in Ontario and is a graduate of the University of Toronto. She is a founding member of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada and has also been a columnist for the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, a broadcaster with CBCRadio, and literary editor of the Montreal Star. She now devotes herself full time to literary translation, specializing in contemporary Québec fiction, and has translated more than 125 Québec novels by, among others, Michel Tremblay, Jacques Poulin, Anne Hébert, François Gravel, Marie-Claire Blais, and Roch Carrier.Sheila Fischman has received numerous honours, including the 1998 Governor General’s Award (for her translation of Michel Tremblay’s Bambi and Me for Talonbooks); she has been a finalist fourteen times for this award. She has received two Canada Council Translation Prizes and two Félix-Antoine Savard Awards from Columbia University. In 2000, she was invested into the Order of Canada and, in 2008, into the Ordre national du Québec, and, in 2008, she received the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize for her outstanding contributions to Canadian literature. She holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Ottawa and Waterloo. Fischman currently resides in Montréal.
“The empathy and tenderness that Tremblay has for his characters is evident on every page of the novel Crossing the Continent. ” – Le Devoir
“In this brilliantly constructed, coming-of-age novel Nana learns and guesses a lot of things about each of the characters she encounters. By the end of her journey, she is not the same: she is not an adult, she is not a teenager, but she has learned things about life that she had never suspected existed. ” – Voir
“In this novel, Tremblay not only gives his fans the background they crave on their beloved Plateau characters, he also sets the groundwork for understanding that the world and the people in it are Janus-like. Good and bad, French and English, country and city, moral and immoral, brave and scared, everything is all rolled up into this thing called life. ” – The Globe and Mail
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