Thursday, July 8, 2010

"No place in the Quebec dream"

A bit of a row over at the Cyberpresse. Montreal filmmaker Jacob Tierney had the chutzpah to tell it like it is here in Quebec culturally-speaking; "extremely inward-looking" where "anglophones and immigrants are ignored". La société québécoise est extrêmement tournée sur elle-même, dit Tierney. Notre art et notre culture ne présentent que des Blancs francophones. Les anglophones et les immigrants sont ignorés. Ils n’ont aucune place dans le rêve québécois. C’est honteux. Predictably, the responses have ranged from outrage to a "circle the wagons" mentality. Well, it's not just in film. Here's my story, for what it's worth: A novel published by a small but respected Montreal publisher of english poetry, prose and fiction. The novel, set in Montreal, is about an orthodox Jew struggling to manage an industrial building in the heart of the city's famed garment district. It is well received, garnering positive notices in newspapers across Canada (Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Montreal Gazette among them). It is selected by W.P. Kinsella as a finalist for the In Canada First Novel Award alongside Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road and others. The small, respected publisher sends the book to a few of Montreal's more prominent french publishers to explore the possibility that such a novel (positively reviewed nationally, prize-considered, Montreal-set) might be translated and published in French. The answer he receives (I paraphrase) is no interest because the novel is deemed 'offensive'. No further details are given. However, I got an inkling of what could possibly be considered 'offensive' about my novel when a review came out in a small cultural magazine called Spirale, in a special edition of essays on Anglo-Montreal writing which ends up being the only review of the novel published in the french press in Quebec. It was an extensive, thoughtful review which, among other choice assertions, accused the novel of being an 'exportation product whose secondary objective is to soil the image of Quebeckers' (The Rent Collector est un produit d'exportation dont l'un des objectifs secondaires est de salir l'image des Québécois.) Had my novel realized the grand ambition given it by this reviewer as 'exportation product' (sales outside Canada were poor) I would have been very satisfied. Look, Quebec publishers are free to publish whatever they want for whomever they suppose will purchase their product. But if this isn't a case of cultural paranoia, or at the very least, severe hyper-sensitivity, I don't know what is. Jacob Tierney, whose reputation is growing, whose career as a filmmaker is on the rise and will undoubtedly transcend the bounds of suburban NDG, but who loves his city as much as I do and wants to tell its story, the story he knows, is exposing the smallmindedness and insularity that exists here. And the Québécois don't like it.

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