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Posts Tagged ‘Rue Deschambault’

streetofriches

Street of Riches by Gabrielle Roy. McClelland & Stewart, 1957 (Rue Deschambault 1955).

I had another book set aside for this week, but its main character suffers from mental illness, and after the melancholic Olive Kitteridge, I couldn’t warm to it. So I browsed my book shelves for something else and settled on Gabrielle Roy’s Street of Riches.

Street of Riches comprises 18 short stories centered on the lives of a family living in early 20th-century St. Boniface, Manitoba. The narrator of the tales is young Christine, the youngest child of a francophone family. The stories speak of Maman and Papa, siblings, boarders, neighbours, the everyday events that fill a young girl’s life. My first acquaintance with this book dates to high school, where we studied the French version, Rue Deschambault, in French class. I recall my favorite teacher reading the second story, Petite Misere, aloud. I’m pretty sure we covered the rest of the book too, but for some reason it was this story that stuck with me. Papa dubbed his youngest child “Little Misery”, perhaps because of Christine’s ill health or perhaps because of his own late-life regrets. After a falling-out with her father, Christine retreats to the attic and refuses all overtures by family members until Papa makes a conciliatory peace offering. At some point in the intervening years, I picked up an English copy of Roy’s 1957 Governor General’s Award-winning book.

The stories have stood up well. Certainly, some details would not be readily understood by high school students these days. For instance, in one story, Christine and her mother go to Eaton’s to purchase yard goods. None of my young-adult children knew that yard goods would be fabric and not, say, a rake or a lawnmower. The events of a story featuring a frightening episode of getting lost in a snowstorm while driving a horse and sleigh seem as distant as a trip to Mars. Nonetheless, many of the human truths and foibles, petty jealousies and longings that the characters bring to life are easily understandable, as relevant today as they ever were. Perhaps my favorite story was the very last, in which young Christine sets out to earn her living as a teacher in a small town.

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