Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

A creative memoir on the presumed life of an absent mother.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 265 pages.
Read from February 28, 2019 to March 1, 2019.

Anaïs never knew her mother’s mother, Susanne, nor did her mother, really. After her grandmother’s passing Anaïs hired a private detective to get the details on why her grandmother was such a fleeting presence in her family’s life. Short-listed for Canada Reads 2019, this is a creative memoir taken from the facts gathered by the private detective in an attempt to piece together the life a woman who abandoned her two young children and caused a void in her family that is felt for generations. The book will be defended by Yanic Truesdale during the Canada Reads 2019 debates at the end of March.

Yanic Truesdale will be defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette during the debates taking place on March 25-29, 2019.

Susanne was originally written in French under the title, La femme qui fuit (The Woman Who Ran Away) and has been beautifully translated into English by Rhonda Mullins. Bravo to Rhonda who has managed to capture the poetic prose of this story in translation.

Susanne is successfully written in the second person and reads like an elegant poem of yearning as Anaïs envisions her grandmother throughout the different stages of her life. The book is far from accusatory and it reads like a real memoir in many aspects. The yearning is for forgiveness, understanding, and for the answer to the one question that neither the author or her mother get an answer to, why did Susanne leave?

Susanne led a tumultuous and intriguing life that included the great depression, political and art revolutions, alcoholism, homelessness, asylums and more. Even with the details unearthed from Susanne’s life, the author can still only speculate as to what drove her to her decisions and imagine how she might have felt in different parts of her life. Why did Susanne decide to abandon her two children, one of whom is Anaïs’ mother, after giving them such tender care for a few years? And then show up at Anaïs’ birth and a few small moments in her mother’s life? Guilt? Remorse? Forced responsibility? As Anaïs speculates, Susanne may have lived with guilt but ultimately may not have been able to face the choices she made, to which, Anaïs forgives her.

What’s the most moving about this book is the wonderful poetic prose which makes for a highly readable book that is easy to connect with. Anaïs is an immensely talented writer whose writing it literary and stimulating while also being highly accessible. I truly enjoyed this novel and felt entwined with Susanne’s gripping story, even if it is only through the speculative hope of her granddaughter.

This engrossing story is going to give the other contender’s in the Canada Reads 2019 debate a run for their money and I am looking forward to hearing how it is received.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

“The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the world passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 271 pages.
Read from December 4, 2017 to December 11 2017.

This is one of those books I purposely avoided in my youth. Don’t ask me why but I had a thing in wanting to avoid highly feminine literature or anything do with motherhood. I guess I did not think I wanted kids and I was wrapped up in my own “cool girl” persona.  There are some powerful moments in this book that spoke to me despite the strong motherhood tone. I should also point out that I was not at all familiar with the original story of Dinah that is referenced in the bible until after I read this book.

Dinah is born as the only daughter of Jacob. She grows up with the other strong women in her family under the presence of the Red Tent. The Red Tent is a place where women gather when they are menstruating or giving birth. It is a strength-giving place where women reset and pass down midwife knowledge to younger generations. However, as Dinah grows these traditions are coming under threat. They make men uncomfortable, this brewing power and community that women have, and Dinah will learn first hand, how a threat of power will cause even men she loves to act out in horrible ways.

“Why did I not know that (child) birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?…Until you are the woman on the bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you do not know the power that rises from other women.”

I can see why this book was an instant hit with so many readers. For any woman that has had a child, this book would validate the beautiful gift of childbirth and motherhood which is something we, as a modern society, have fallen a bit out of touch with. We medicalize birth, view women’s menstrual cycles as a nuisance to be stifled and controlled, and have gotten out of touch with raising children in a community setting which, leaves mothers extremely isolated and without the resources or help that other woman and the bond of motherhood can provide. Additionally, I would say that the book made a strong comment on Christianity in that that the community and strength that women had in this book was brought to end by Christianity when women’s sexuality and virginity was being controlled by men.

As I do not have children at this point in my life the motherhood theme was a bit overpowering at times, however, this book helped me reconnect with my feminine side and appreciate the strength that comes with being a woman, making it an important read for all women.