by Jocelyne Saucier
translated by Rhonda Mullins

ISBN 9781897151372 | 5.125" x 7.625" | TPB with French Flaps | $21
Categories:Fiction - Literary, Translations

Purchase:Local Bookstores | |

Share |

Jeanne's Road (Preview)
Chapter One
In the photo, I am seventeen and think I can become someone different one day, although I know it’s not to be. I will always struggle with the need to build a better person upon the rubble of myself. On my good days, I tell myself that this need is a need for the absolute, that I am driven by something greater than me, that within me there is an extraordinary drive for accomplishment. But then I hear a mocking voice, shrill in my ear. “So, old girl, still aspiring to sainthood?” You can see the car and the country road clearly behind the young girl in the photo. It’s a faded black-and-white shot, but still you can make out that it’s spring. The long, black furrows in the fields, the barren trees, the streaks of a storm brewing or beating its retreat in the sky; the scene is pathetic, sad. Only my father could be moved by it. He took the picture. He insisted that I keep my rubber boots on and that I hold that stack of newspapers in my arms.
— Smile. You’re the hope of the workers.
The year is 1961, in deepest Abitibi, and we are communists. Counter-revolutionaries have just invaded the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, and I find it hard to smile, because I’m inhabited by my father’s rage.
— Castro is going to send them packing with a good swift kick in the arse. You’ll see.
He had stoked his anger all day. We left at daybreak with a carton full of sandwiches that would have to do for breakfast, lunch, and supper, because we didn’t have the money or the time for a restaurant — where would we have found a restaurant in the lost villages where we were delivering the news of a new era?
My feet were cold in my rubber boots, but that wasn’t the sort of complaint my father would tolerate. Comfort is a bourgeois concept. We, who lived in exemplary poverty at home, knew this only too well. All those years, my mother, my sisters, and I never shrank from the hardships that the people’s fight for the rule of the proletariat required of us. So I forced a smile, hoping it would satisfy the workers and my father. It was always the same old story. Every time he was about to take my picture, I would ask myself, How should I smile this time? And when I saw the result, I hated the girl with the beatific grin of the blessed. It’s hard to believe that I could even muster a smile with his eyes bearing down on me. Even so, I never managed to pull together one that would make me smile.
The photo appeared on the front page of L’Étincelle or L’Étoile or L’Aurore, I don’t remember which. My father and I made the rounds delivering so many newspapers. I acquired a taste for the road.
I love watching the pines, the lakes, and the rivers stream by and then, all of a sudden, a sight to behold, golden light creeps over the dark waters of a lake, a small house appears through the morning fog, and then another, and an entire village awakens before me, but I’m already on my way, because there were some villages we avoided. Communists were not welcome everywhere.
— Not to worry. It took the Bolsheviks years to bring the revolution to Russia.
I didn’t worry. On the contrary, I was perfectly happy in the car. These are the moments I love to remember. My father, at the wheel of that rattling, coughing old heap, and me, at his side, watching the scenery go by while he made conversation. My father talked, abundantly and passionately, of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, and the revolution underway in America, in spite of McCarthyism, in spite of the Cold War, in spite of anything that could stand in its way. The revolution would overcome.
— And what about Stalin, Dad?
— What about Stalin?
— Stalin, you know, the trials, the executions, the gulags, and all that.
— That’s all lies. History will sort out what’s what and rehabilitate Stalin’s name. You’ll see.
I regretted having raised such a touchy subject. There was a long moment of silence, and without my father’s voice the road would become dreary and sad.
I’m always on the road. I travel the same cheerless and desolate land, with newspapers filling my car (not communist newspapers — no one’s interested in Hegelian dialectics these days anyways), and that full, warm voice that taught me to hope for a better world haunts me still.
— So, young lady, what do you want to talk about?
The voice that I hear in my head is as resonant and perfectly modulated as the one that made conversation in our old clunker of a car. The voice of a man in the prime of his forties. My father was handsome, like a movie star. He could have been Audrey Hepburn’s leading man in Roman Holiday, but he settled for the humble life of a militant communist in a country that didn’t want to know.
— Didn’t want to know? You must be joking! Rouyn was crawling with communists in 1930.
The young girl in the photo stirs deep down inside me. These memories captivate me. I become the young girl of bygone days, listening to her father’s voice, waiting for him to tell the tales of his heroic youth.
The adjective is mine. He wouldn’t approve of it, heroism being the exclusive domain of the great, while he was just a humble hack. That’s how he liked to introduce himself, but I know that he was proud of being a reporter. A pride all the more prideful because he concealed it. This I can relate to, along with tactical humility and working as a reporter. Humility is comfortable when you have learned to practice it in your own private smugness. As for journalism, I was born steeping in it, as they say.
I’ve been wandering the roads for over thirty years, like my father, with a stack of newspapers in the back seat, and sometimes with two children bundled in blankets, my daughters, who I take with me along the winding roads. I have never felt the pull of domestic life.
— What do you think of a headline like, A Young Communist Marching toward Victory?
My father broke his Stalinesque silence to wonder if a triumphant headline was what was called for to caption the photo, or whether he should go for something subtle instead.
— A Young Communist Working for a Better World. Would that be better?
He was not really asking for my opinion. He was thinking out loud, and I took notes.
In a large cardboard-bound notebook I noted all the thoughts that popped into his head and that could be published in L’Étincelle (or L’Étoile or L’Aurore, I don’t remember anymore). He left me to judge his thoughts. He talked, he carried on a conversation with himself, he presented arguments, he debated before the highest authorities, showed them the flaws in the arguments, put them on trial, pleaded the just cause, went back to his initial premise, and was off again, considering everything that life, the Party, the people, the sky, and everything under it brought to mind ... and I sorted through it all.
I worked by transubstantiation, changing one idea into another, emptying the first of its substance, hence, the idea of communist youth embodied by a smile in rubber boots. I just couldn’t do the idea justice in the notebook. It raised the hackles of my mind. So I waited for my father to be transported to other thoughts. Spring, for instance. It’s bleak, it’s melting, it’s splattered with washed-out colours, the rose is not yet in bloom, spring has barely sprung, it’s grey and gloomy, but it heralds renewal.
— Renewal ...
The transubstantiation began.
— With Spring Comes a New Day for the Workers.
Spring didn’t have any particular resonance in my father’s mind. The bloom of the rose, the chirping of the birds, the soft green of the hillsides, he could see them, hear them, feel them, talk about them at great length, but they were just concepts. Spring was just a road through the advance of time. At the end of its fleeting tenderness, the scientific will of history awaited.
— Springtime Brings with it the Renewal of the Workers’ Cause. He smiled. He was on the verge of the nirvana of an idea that would satisfy him. I loved this moment when the thought process held us in a tenuous state of intimacy. We could have driven by an elephant on a bicycle, and neither one of us would have commented, so intent were we on capturing the thought that was fluttering around our heads, holding us in suspense. Lord, there were some fine moments on the road with my father.
—Spring Smiles upon the Workers’ Cause. Yes, that’s it, Spring Smiles upon theWorkers’ Cause. It’s poetic, and yet militant. Are you getting this down?
I would have preferred that the headline not smile, but I wrote it down anyway. I should have accepted seeing myself on the front page of L’Étincelle (or L’Étoile or L’Aurore ...) under a headline that points to my mouth wide with happiness.
— We’ll run the story about Chinese revisionism alongside it.
I want to erase myself completely, erase myself from my memories, but I can’t. The smile pops up regularly in the newspapers my father left boxes full of. The newspapers have yellowed, the smile has faded, they have followed me through every change of address, and I still can’t manage to be touched by the effort that I made when smiling in the image of a young communist girl.
I prefer, much prefer, the notebooks that record my father’s thoughts. I have boxes full of these too. Numbered, categorized, I have taken great care of them. They fill five cardboard boxes that have never been exposed to the humidity of basements or the dust of attics, because the notebooks have always slept with me, under my bed, no matter where my daughters and I laid our heads. My father’s voice, when it comes to me in my dreams, recounts entire pages of these notebooks that I have read and reread to the point that I no longer know where my own thoughts fit in.
— Don’t forget to send a cheque to the printer.
— Yes Dad.
— And the garage. We have a bill that’s a few months old.
Pay printer & mechanic. The notebooks contain more than just tactical and metaphorical considerations on the proletarian revolution. There is the odd stray note that reminds me that we had a day-to-day life in our little apartment on Dallaire Avenue, in what is still called the immigrant quarter.
— The Vinohradoras are moving to Toronto at the end of next week.
The Vinohradoras were our neighbours. Ukrainians. They arrived with the largest wave of immigrants who came from just about everywhere on earth, heeding the call of the Klondike, and now that life was better somewhere else, they were moving on, taking with them my only prospect as a young girl, a boy my own age, Andrew, and his Slavic blue eyes. What would Andrew remember about me? My smile, probably, my greatest asset as a temptress.
— They’re having a going-away party.
— At the Ukrainian Hall?
— Of course. Where else?
I always liked social events at the Ukrainian Hall, even the wakes. It was where Andrew and I exchanged our first lovers’ glances. I think that we were each as surprised as the other. We grew up together, in a way, our families sharing the same balcony and the same ideas. All the Ukrainians in this town were communists at one time, even if they no longer are.
— The Vinohradoras were great friends of Anna Evaniuk. And Anna Evaniuk, a great friend of Jeanne Corbin.
— It was an incredible time.
And just like that, we are there.