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  • Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City
  • Renée Hulan
Sherry Simon . Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City. McGill-Queen's University Press. xvi, 280. $27.50

This original and theoretically rich book was the clearly deserving winner of the 2006 Gabrielle Roy Prize and the Quebec Writers' Federation Award for non-fiction. Rather than a historical overview of translation in Montreal, it is, as Simon makes clear in the introduction, a cultural study of 'a limited selection of culturally significant translations' that reveal changes in the city's culture.

The Boulevard St-Laurent bisects Montreal, dividing it along linguistic, national, ethnic, and class lines that remain etched on the city's cultural landscape. The colonial city that was once segregated according to these categories retains traces of its past, as in the stubborn drive to live in English that still pervades a diminishing enclave. While Simon outlines power relations with sharp precision, she moves beyond the positions of the 'francophone separatists' and the 'anglophone opposition,' which she argues no longer reflect the daily life of the city. Thus, she reads Malcolm Reid's The Shouting Signpainters in its historical context and places it alongside Le mur de Berlin P.Q., Jean Forest's account of living in a culture infiltrated by another language against its will. The comparison beautifully displays the city's internal colonization and introduces the political and cultural issues facing writers including F.R. Scott, Jacques Ferron, E.D. Blodgett, and Jacques Brault, who literally and symbolically cross linguistic borders.

Montreal differs from other multilingual Canadian cities in which English dominates and from many world cities in which nationalism has erased minority languages and cultures or where partition prevents cultural contact. Looking through the lens of postcolonial critique, Simon crosses national boundaries to reveal how language and literature shape and are shaped by geographical space through effective comparisons to cosmopolitan cities including Kolkata, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Trieste. In the 'contact zones' where languages [End Page 399] intersect, she finds that, in Montreal, the 'spaces of the once-divided, colonial city define the terms for the complex network of conversations today.' These conversations include a rich écriture migrante as well as 'writing that is inspired by the encounter with other tongues, including the effects of creative interference.'

Reading the creative work of Gail Scott along with Nicole Brossard and Barbara Godard, she emphasizes the role translation has played in feminist theories of language, and elsewhere enters into a productive dialogue with Alain Médam's Montréal interdite and Montréal imaginaire by Pierre Nepveu and Gilles Marcotte. In particular, Nepveu's recognition of the influence Yiddish has had on his own cultural landscape signals the changing environment Simon examines. Once, Yiddish writers and speakers turned to English as the language of cultural and economic opportunity in Montreal. 'For writers like A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, and Mordecai Richler,' Simon writes, 'Yiddish was a continual presence and vital resource, but it was not the material of their work.' In a meticulous reading of Klein's 'Pimontel manuscript,' Simon shows how the themes in Klein's work remain close to the 'polyglot encounters' of his home in Mile End. Today, the passage of Yiddish into French – through translations by Pierre Anctil, collaborations between Goldie Morgentaler and Chava Rosenfarb, and writing by Régine Robin – 'represents a new turn in the cultural life of Montreal.'

Throughout the study, Simon reveals the city's imaginary life in physical spaces, including buildings and monuments like the cross on Mont Royal, the Church of Saint Michael and Saint Anthony in Mile End, or the Jacques Cartier bridge. For example, she establishes the iconic status of the bridge in the literary imagination by tracing inter-textual links in the writing of Jacques Ferron, Emile Ollivier, and Gabrielle Roy. In this discussion, it is striking that the Mercier bridge has yet to make a cultural mark and that the Mohawk language appears only as part of the distant past in Robert Majzel's City of Forgetting. As Simon acknowledges, there are 'few visible signs of the First Nations' presence in Montreal,' and that absence suggests...


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pp. 399-400
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