PELAGIE by Antonine Maillet


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Exiled by the British from ""Acadie""--now the Canadian Maritimes--and dumped in Georgia in the 1750s and 60s, the French families who provided the subject for Longfellow's Evangeline are fictionalized here as they journey back to their northern homeland in 1770. In Maillet's spirited version, they're led by the intrepid and colorful Pelagie, who, with her caravan of carts, bears resemblance to Brecht's Mother Courage. Some of the French in Georgia have chosen resettlement in Louisiana, but for the rest it's up through Carolina, Virginia, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and the terrible winter of Maine. At certain ports, an Acadian rebel ship, the Grand 'Goule, with its captain Beausoleil-Broussard (in love with Pelagie and vice versa), is there to meet the carts. Yet Pelagie and the band always prefer to forge on by foot and behind the oxen, in tool-strewn vehicles (""A plane, some nails, a bunch of gourds, a maple-sap tap, a trowel, a chaff-cutter, a dog-collar, a scythe. . ""). In Charleston the group happens on a slave auction; in Baltimore one of their group rim-rams (with a fake magic act) the clothes off the backs of local women to clothe the Acadians; and in Boston they're threatened by panicky, fleeing Tories. (Part of the book's historical charm is that the nationalist in-gathering of the Acadians exactly coincides with the American revolution.) Winner of the Prix Goncourt and translated with lively finish by Philip Stratford, the novel has an appealing boisterousness about it, strictly on the patriotic plane of little-folks-made-big-heroes. And though it's far from subtle, it turns the conventions of told-and-retold folklore into simple but vivacious fare.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday