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Monday, September 24, 2012

"Bride of New France" by Suzanne Desrochers

SUMMARY Transporting readers from cosmopolitan seventeenth-century Paris to the Canadian frontier, this vibrant debut tells of the struggle to survive in a brutal time and place. Laure Beausejour has been taken from her destitute family and raised in an infamous orphanage to be trained as a lace maker. Striking and willful, she dreams of becoming a seamstress and catching the eye of a nobleman. But after complaining about her living conditions, she is sent to Canada as a fille du roi, expected to marry a French farmer there. Laure is shocked by the primitive state of the colony and the mingling of the settlers with the native tribes. When her ill-matched husband leaves her alone in their derelict hut for the winter, she must rely on her wits and her clandestine relationship with an Iroquois man for survival.

Published by:  W.W. Norton & Company
Pages:  288
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Author:  Suzanne Desrochers
Purchase the book:  Barnes and Noble


Suzanne Desrochers, of French Canadian descent, is writing a PhD thesis at King's College, London, on the migration of women to North America.  She lives in Toronto.


Oh, I really loved this book!  First of all, who wouldn't love the cover?  It spoke to me from the book shelf...  The woman's profile so mysterious and dark and then edged all around like a cut out, gilt paper snowflake.  I had to pick it up. 

And listen to the first quote inside:

                 "But what shall I tell you of migrations when in this empty sky
                               the precise ghosts of departed summer birds
                                                still trace old signs."

                                                                                      Leonard Cohen
                                                            "The Sparrows," In Let Us Compare Mythologies

Poetic and beautiful?  Yes, and so is the book.

Suzanne Desrochers doesn't write like a novelist, particularly.  She's obviously a researcher who is working on her thesis, as is expressed right up front.  But what she has is a heart for her research material.  She has a sensibility for it, and she's translated that to her story in a most magnificent way. 

While her plot development rests safely in the hands of history, Ms Desrocher is called upon to create the life of her protagonist Laure Beausejour within the confines of the times in Paris and then in Montreal in its savage and New World days.  The story is absorbing in fine details of the asylum Laure has to bear as a child, the ship she must sail in and her ultimate sufferings as a lonely and mistreated wife in the barrens of Canada.

What's lacking in this otherwise gorgeous novel is real heart and emotion.  It really pains me to say that I didn't feel the strong emotions that should have been evoked from some of the dire circumstances presented.  There were many examples of human suffering, and several examples where great love and passion are told.  But the maturity of writing that would cause a reader not just to read about these passions, but to actually experience them along with the characters was missing in this book.  I chalk it up to being a debut novel from a very brilliant student of migration of women to North America.   She had lovable characters in mind and a great story to tell about them, but the heart of the emotions seemed difficult to pull off in every case.  Sometimes it did work, but many opportunities were missed.

The author shows much promise in this book, however.  I loved reading the story.  It was beautiful and absorbing as a tale of hardship and love...the struggles of women in the early days of populating North America.  Days when sailing across the Atlantic was as dangerous as flying to the moon, and the prospect of finding a husband in Canada was as frightening as finding one in Afghanistan.  My heart went out to Laure, her darling friend and her heroic lover.

This is a book well worth the reading.  I'm so glad I took a chance on it.  I highly recommend it, and I hope Ms Desrochers will continue with her novel writing.  She shows great promise!  I'll be buying her next book...

PS:  Lovers of needlework will love the references to Laure and her handwork in this book!!

4.5 stars              Deborah/TheBookishDame


Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader

I read this book last year and thought it was very well done, especially the descriptions of the setting. I agree with you that the book lacked only in heart, as I found Laure herself very difficult to connect with, but this didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the story.


Thanks for that input, Melissa. I'm happy to know I wasn't the only one who wished they could have had more emotional connection with the characters.

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