Tinky’s Review: ‘I Remember’ traces French Canadians in New England

  • Tinky Weisblat

Published: 6/21/2017 12:34:43 PM

BOOK REVIEW: “I Remember” by Jeanne Douillard (Swamp Press, 205 pages, $20)

Near the beginning of “I Remember,” Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield writes of learning that the French constitute the largest ethnic group in New England.

“I had not known this,” she says. “In western Massachusetts — where I grew up — the Irish and Italians were the predominant cultures, visible and vocal. I asked myself, ‘Why are we so silent? Why are we so invisible?’”

Her new book, “I Remember/Je Me Souviens,” is an eloquent attempt to answer those questions. Some of the memories she shares are personal. Others are cultural or historical. All of them address her identity and questions of identity, in general.

After a brief introduction in which Douillard previews the search for her ethnic roots, she launches into, “Silent Presence: The French in New England.”

This section, the book’s largest, traces the cultural and population exchanges of French people in England, Canada and what would become the United States, from the Norman invasion of England in 1066 to Canada’s recent efforts to bolster French identity and language. A major focus is the presence of French Canadian immigrants in New England.

I learned a lot from “Silent Presence,” which presents a compelling story and facts that were new to me. In a discussion of prejudice against “Canucks” in New England, for example, Douillard reveals that in the 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan had more members in Maine than in Mississippi.

If I liked “Silent Presence,” I fell in love with the book’s second section, “Dans la Terre de Nos Aieux: Going Far Back.”

This is a personal chronicle of pilgrimages Douillard and her husband Armand Proulx took to France. The pair visited parts of that country from which their family members might have journeyed to the new world in the 18th century.

In a novel, Douillard or Proulx would have discovered long-lost cousins. They don’t quite do that in this memoir. Nevertheless, they do visit many fascinating locations, partake of wonderful food and drink and encounter caring, generous French people.

The book’s brief final section discusses the Deerfield Raid of 1704. Here, Douillard views that event through a prism that tries to include all the parties concerned — English settlers, French traders and Native Americans.

As in the other two sections of “I Remember,” she is once again mixing history with autobiography; one of her ancestors was taken to Canada after the raid.

All in all, “I Remember” isa readable, fascinating combination of history and self-expression.

Jeanne Douillard’s
book may be purchased by calling 774-2385 or emailing silentpresence1@gmail.com.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.


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