Although some elements of Vandal Love seem mystical or even supernatural in their origins, one significant theme of the novel is very much rooted in history. Early in the story, Hervé - Jude and François's father - expresses disgust with the mass migration of Québécois away from the country of their birth, a journey of which his own children will soon take part.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and in particular between 1840 and the Great Depression in the 1930s), there was a major migration of French Canadians to the United States and Ontario known as "Le Grand Hémorragie" during which time approximately 900,000 residents of Québec emigrated in search of work and prosperity. This migration began in response to a lack of rural land in the Province of Québec (specifically in the Saint Lawrence Valley), which was brought on by restrictions on land development. Though at that time Canada was run by local governments, it was still controlled by the British, who reserved open land for English expansion. Prospects for security, or at times even survival, for the people of Québec seemed bleak.
Many Québécois left for some of the newly industrialized towns and cities in New England - from Lewiston, Maine; to Lowell, Massachusetts; to Woonsocket, Rhode Island - as well as to other settlements in Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, some of which became known as "Little Canadas" because of their high concentration of expatriates.
Some - like Jude and François in Vandal Love - went even farther afield and became part of the (now) estimated twelve million Americans of French ancestry, while others eventually returned to Canada. One wonders, however, whether Jude's observation was correct: "when you crossed the border, you were never the same. Sons who returned were strangers at tables."
For more about Quebec, see our backstory to Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead: Why Quebec speaks French.
This article is from the August 8, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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