28 February 2016

Antonine Maillet: Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979)

Pélagie-la-Charrette is the seventh novel by Antonine Maillet, and the first by a non-European to win the Prix Goncourt. After the removal of the Acadians from Canada by the British in 1755, Pélagie-la-Charrette is a fictional recreation of the return from the South of the USA to Acadia by Pélagie, family and followers in 1770. It has been translated into English as Pélagie: The Return to Acadie, although I find it difficult to imagine how the many Acadian expressions used in the original could have been translated.

This then is the story of Pélagie LeBlanc (called Pélagie-la-Charrette) and fellow Acadians' ten-year journey to Grand- Pré (Nova Scotia), with a cart pulled by oxen. On the way they move from Charleston (North Carolina), through Baltimore (Maryland), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Boston (Massachusetts), Salem (also MA), to their final stop.

On the way they have picked up other travellers, including a black slave whom they treat with a respect he has never known, bury some people, steal just to survive, and nearly starve. Other principal characters are Bélonie-le-Vieux, who starts out as a ninenty-year-old, and who is the story teller of this essentially oral culture, and Célina the healer and midwife.

There is much 'doubling' in the tale, as in the case of twins, the two Jeannes, the ghost cart of death following the cart bearing the living, and the flashes forward to relatives towards the end of the 19th century. Pélagie's beloved captain Beausoleil also follows in his ship, meeting her at ports of call. There are sad moments, as when a child has to be buried, and humorous ones, such as Pierre à Pitre's thefts and imprisonment in Baltimore, and throughout there is a polyvocality, a Rabelaisian joy, an obvious delight at the re-establishment of a home for the Acadians.

My other post on Antonine Maillet:

Antonine Maillet: La Sagouine

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