I don’t know much about Canada or its history, so this book fascinated me. It’s set in Quebec in the 1990s when they were seeking independence from the rest of Canada for the second time.
After the British forces defeated the French Canadians in 1763, the Quebec government switched hands. The British tolerated the Roman Catholic faith of the French Canadians, allowing the Church’s influence to remain in the region (the Church controlled the province’s education and healthcare). However, the British took over all the top administrative posts. So for the next two centuries, it was the Anglophones who prospered in the province. They managed the economy and civil institutions, and fluency in English was a requirement for getting a white-collar job. It was ludicrous considering most Quebeckers speak French (this remains so to date), and this language barrier caused the French Canadians to become increasingly marginalized.
The Quiet Revolution began in the 1960s after the death of Quebec’s conservative Premier Maurice Duplessis. Jean Lesage, a liberal politician, became Quebec’s Premier after Duplessis’ passing, and he ushered a period of change in Quebec. His government took control of education and healthcare from the Church, which allowed secularization and a decline in the influence of the Church on Quebeckers. Lesage also championed economic reforms, which led to prosperity in Quebec, and that in turn increased the number of French Canadians who wished for the political independence of Quebec.
The increasing popularity of calls for independence led to the formation of Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a paramilitary arm that was supporting the separatists. FLQ was behind the October Crisis in 1970 – members of one of their cells kidnapped and killed Quebec’s Labour Minister. One of The Forgotten Daughter‘s plot lines is the (fictional) story of Veronique, daughter of a separatist responsible for the October Crisis.
The Forgotten Daughter is a wonderfully written historical novel. Interwoven to Veronique’s life, we also have Elodie’s story. Elodie is a Duplessis orphan. During Duplessis’ time as Premier, the Canadian Federal Government began giving more money for the care of those who were committed to mental institutions, so the provincial government and the Church deliberately certified around 20,000 orphans as mentally ill overnight. These children were often abused and left uneducated. As a consequence, most of them had trouble becoming functioning adults. In The Forgotten Daughter we have Elodie becoming active in Duplessis Orphans Committee and fighting for justice, and Veronique trying to come to terms with her family legacy. Goodman’s writing is deeply moving in this novel. Compared to most other historical fiction I’ve read, Goodman is heavy on history (I learnt all of the above and more reading this book), but it was never boring. Also knowing Quebec’s complicated history made it easier for me to empathize with characters (even with Veronique’s father), and appreciate Veronique’s romance subplot. Like her parents, Veronique is a separatist, but she is in love with a journalist who opposes Quebec’s sovereignty. They face numerous trials in their relationship because of their political divisions, although love conquers all in the end.
This book is well worth the read!
Note: Many thanks to Harper Perennial for sending me a review copy of The Forgotten Daughter.