by Richard Dallaire, translated by Mary O’Connor

Éditions Alto, 2013

A few nights every month, the authorities carried out horrifying purges. They locked down neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the drying up and erected scaffolding where guillotines dispatched a portion of each superfluous individual.

“That’s a lot of work to ease the burden on social programs.”

“Maybe they like the sound of the blade…”

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I wasn’t in a joking mood. Anyone who had heard a blade fall on another’s neck and seen the sand spill out of their body shouldn’t joke about it. I remembered the official line that was relayed in the newspapers. …

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What does it take to be a good translator?

"You need instinct, empathy, sensitivity, passion, and dispassion. You need a thick skin, a good ear, a strong gut, and fingers that can fly like the wind. You need humility and chutzpah. You need to be ready to defend your choices, particularly your punctuation. Because people get incensed about punctuation. One would think they had been beaten about the head with semi-colons or mugged by a roving gang of em dashes. You need to meander, read comic books, read cookbooks, listen to languages you don't understand, and be an avid reader of packaging. You need to find poetry in the banal, you need to defend your punctuation some more, and you need to kill your darlings."

from Rhonda Mullins' funny, entertaining, and on-the-money contribution to "Culture in Transit: Translating the Literature of Quebec" from Véhicule Press

You recently translated The Coral Bride, your second novel by Roxanne Bouchard. What’s it like to return to an author and her characters? Does the translation get any easier?

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It’s always a pleasure to dive into a Roxanne Bouchard novel and immerse myself in familiar waters. She writes with such authenticity about the people and places of the Gaspé Peninsula, it’s hard to believe you’re not there, looking out to sea and wondering what’s going to wash in on the next tide as you’re turning the pages. I love seeing Roxanne’s characters evolve from one book to the next as we discover snippets of insight into their lives and back story. Especially as they were never really intended to evolve. Nous étions le sel de la mer was written as a one-off literary novel about a woman travelling to the sea to track down her birth mother. It just so happened to have a dead body and a detective in it, and it was only when Orenda Books published We Were the Salt of the Sea that publisher Karen Sullivan told Roxanne she’d written a detective novel — and persuaded her to write a series featuring DS Joaquin Moralès. Does the translation get any easier? Um, nope. The language in The Coral Bride is just as lyrical and poetic as it was in the first book, if not more so. …

by Claudine Dumont

translated by David Scott Hamilton

House of Anansi, 2015

Captive by Claudine Dumont, translated by David Scott Hamilton, comes with a hell of a twist. It’s a twist so big that you might want to consider stapling the last few pages together in case you accidentally read the equivalent of “The butler did it.” It’s a twist so huge that readers would be grateful upon reaching the last page to find a message from House of Anansi’s Arachnide imprint: “To read the end, please email us with ‘Spoiler alert’ in the header.” It’s a twist so game-changing that it makes the novel. …

by Richard Ste-Marie

Alire, 2014

There can be so much grit between the detectives’ teeth in the crime fiction coming out of Quebec these days, it’s quite refreshing when an investigator with a touch of class comes along. Enter Detective Sergeant Francis Pagliaro of the Sûreté du Québec, a well-spoken, cultured cop with an eye for fine art. How many detectives’ first thought on laying eyes on a crime scene would be a line from Baudelaire recalling a key work by Matisse? — “There all is order and beauty. Luxury, peace, and pleasure.” …

Translated by Ann Marie Boulanger

It’s a summer of crushing heat and unsolved crimes. From east to west, over a mind-boggling ten million square kilometres of terrain — dotted with countless lakes, a fistful of murderers, and masses of dense, dry scrub — people have shuttered their windows, drawn dusty curtains, locked doors, and installed powerful air conditioners which, somewhat ironically, are cooling down their concerns while ratcheting up the temperature outside.

On the morning of July 26, the mercury in Split Landing already reads 34 degrees Celsius in the shade of the tall conifer trees, and the headline in the national newspaper, hurled at dawn onto front porches by an already sweating Gerry Gaston, blares “Two teens, suspected of murdering florist and pair of Dutch tourists, vanish without a trace.” Under the photo of the baby-faced boys, a second, less attention-grabbing piece reports that this July is shaping up to be the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. …

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Promised to a lifetime of pain, between the suicide tour and her passing in October 1963, Édith Piaf gave the Paris paparazzi and the tabloid press so much to run with it seemed it would never end. Her glory at the Olympia in early 1961 proved fleeting. She’d undergone another operation or two, but never hinted that she might be stepping out of the limelight. Her haggard face as she left the American Hospital in Paris earned Thiago enough to keep both his car and his family going for a good while.

I didn’t need Yvette Renard to tell me Thiago was cheating on me. I didn’t even mind. I think he’d always realized I derived no pleasure from being with him, and so by the time I was no longer pregnant I already suspected he was looking for other women to confirm his talents as a lover. He’d come home smelling of perfume, smeared in makeup… He wasn’t especially good at it. But, as I said, I didn’t mind, and indeed I found myself relieved of a duty that bored me to tears. Every time he told me he was in hot pursuit of a dying Piaf or a drunk Bardot, I knew he’d be off having a good time in someone else’s arms. But, to be completely frank, I was more jealous of Édith Piaf and the other starlets than the bunch of unknowns I assumed his body simply needed to keep going, much like a visit to the dentist or a pedicure. I’d probably have been angry if sex with Thiago had meant anything at all to me. But I didn’t know. I didn’t think about things like that. It was a different time in my life. He, on the other hand, easily managed to excuse his infidelities. We weren’t yet married, after all, and if our relationship was modeled on Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s, then surely “contingent” love affairs were to be expected. It wasn’t Thiago who brought up contingent love affairs, of course. It was me. He’d never read de Beauvoir, he wasn’t interested. Truth be told, we’d never much discussed love and contingency. And I still think that even though he would hit me when we argued, he still loved me. But I didn’t love him. I loved the freedom he’d given me by tearing me away from Três Tucanos. …

by Jean-François Caron

translated by W. Donald Wilson

Talonbooks, 2015

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In The Keeper’s Daughter, like in many works of fiction, names carry weight. They offer insight into characters, hint at the histories of places, and sometimes even reference other literary works. But in Jean-François Caron’s novel, the changing of names is just as significant as the names themselves. Throughout the story, names are invented, substituted, forgotten, and omitted; none can be fully believed or trusted. As the story unfolds, the reader is left to struggle with the uncertainty of identity and the unreliability of memory:

“As soon as she sees me, she calls me Dorothée. […] It’s no use telling her I was born in Port-au-Prince, or that since I turned two the sky of Quebec is the only one I’ve laid eyes on, or that Dorothée is not my name at all: she doesn’t hear anything. Rose Brouillard hears only herself.” …

by Martine Delvaux

translated by David Homel

Linda Leith Publishing, 2015

“For the most part,” Martine Delvaux says in an online interview with Ceri Morgan, “I don’t invent anything. I have nothing to say except my own experience of the world.” And elsewhere, tellingly, “I don’t think I believe in what we call ‘identity’ as one thing or another, something that defines us once and for all. Except when it comes to being considered female in our society — this taints everything we do on a daily basis.”

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Gender runs through this novel — or is it fictionalized memoir? — this “world where no one spoke of men, they were not a subject of conversation because they didn’t really exist, or only as grandfathers, bosses, neighbours, doctors. Life was lived among girls.” It begins with a childhood “filled with tiny toys fished out of the bottom of cereal boxes in the morning, Cracker Jack that broke your teeth, sticky Rice Krispies squares, chicken sandwiches that were impossible to dip into the gluey Saint Hubert sauce, melting chocolate sundaes topped with peanuts from Dairy Queen. Life was like a fairy tale. The princes were away, and one day they would suddenly appear having fought a dragon.” …

by Maxime Raymond Bock

translated by Pablo Strauss

Coach House Books, 2016

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Robert “Baloney” Lacerte, the eponymous hero of Maxime Raymond Bock’s newly translated novella, is an aging, washed-up poet with more creative spirit than apparent talent. The narrator is a disillusioned young writer who encounters this odd, eccentric character lurking on the edges of the Montreal poetry scene and sees, in the old man’s crazy tales, a possible key to unlocking his own crippling writer’s block. …


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