Family members force a teenager to give up her daughter for adoption in 1950s Quebec.
At a time when Quebec is not only divided, but violently polarized by the tension between French and English cultures, Maggie cannot understand what keeps her polished English father, owner of a prosperous seed store, married to her working-class, rough-spun French mother. When she falls passionately in love with Gabriel, a poor French farm boy, at 15 and ends up pregnant, her parents forbid her to keep the baby. Maggie goes on to marry a wealthy man, but she never forgets her daughter, Elodie, and finally begins to make inquiries to find her. The narrative becomes split between Elodie’s life and Maggie’s life. Raised by nuns at a local orphanage, Elodie is an energetic child, but when the little girl is 7, the Canadian government carries out a ruthless plan to rebrand all Catholic orphanages as homes for the mentally ill. Practically overnight, thousands of orphans are designated mentally unfit, lost in a system of abuse and neglect. Maggie’s attempts to locate her daughter are stonewalled and met with lies; it’s not until more than 20 years later that she learns the truth with Gabriel’s help. This is a strongly political novel about the little-known injustices that mark a particular time and place, but it’s also a very personal story. Goodman’s (The Finishing School, 2017, etc.) biographical blurb acknowledges that it’s based on the story of her own mother. Perhaps because of this, the characters who could have easily come across as types or clichés take on a great emotional depth. The novel centers around the definition, the challenges, the triumph of family, but it also acknowledges that Elodie and Maggie’s story is one of many.
The ending hits a perfect emotional note: bittersweet and honest, comforting and regretful.