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It’s as if Dickens or Balzac - or Rohinton Mistry - had decided to write the book that summed up life in east-end Montreal. This is the first volume of a quartet that has taken Quebec by storm, selling over forty-five thousand copies.
On the very first page, we meet Charles Thibodeau being born. It’s 1966 and the rest of Montreal is more excited by the fact that a new subway system is opening, but his birth is a big event for Charles’s parents and for their working-class neighbours.
Sadly, Charles’s mother dies when he is four, her funeral interrupted by War Measures Act soldiers on the streets. Soon young Charles, like a younger Huck Finn, is fending for himself. While he adopts a stray dog, Boff, in turn he is taken away from his drunken, violent father and becomes part of the Fafard family nearby.
His adventures follow thick and fast - at school, where he avoids becoming a teacher’s pet, despite being smart, in a part-time job where he encounters a pederast, and at summer camp, where he establishes himself as a rebel. By the end of the book, he has fully earned his title, Charles the Bold, leaving us eager to follow his further adventures.
But the real hero of this book is Montreal, and its scores of memorable, lively characters who leap off the page. Like Gabrielle Roy in The Tin Flute, Yves Beauchemin has given us an unforgettable portrait of life in the francophone east end - with more to come in this ambitious and richly rewarding saga.