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  • Between Languages and Cultures: Colonial and Postcolonial Readings of Gabrielle Roy
  • Rebecca Linz
Between Languages and Cultures: Colonial and Postcolonial Readings of Gabrielle Roy. By Rosemary Chapman. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009. x + 308 pp. Hb CD$95.00; £63.00.

Although Gabrielle Roy holds a prominent place within Quebec's literary canon, she in fact spent her formative years in Manitoba, where she witnessed and experienced the tensions and power dynamics at play in the French-English bilingual environment. Rosemary Chapman's interest in both Roy's life and her literary works informs this engaging and well-documented evaluation of the influence of language on Roy and on the linguistic choices she made. She discusses Roy's bilingual background, including her education (conducted primarily in English), her travels to England and France, and her decisions to settle down in Quebec and, more significantly, to compose her writings in French. Chapman begins her study with a thorough survey of Manitoba's linguistic history. Focusing primarily on the role of English and French in the school system, she defends her discussion by reminding us that 'education is a key tool of colonial and imperial governance' (p. 6). This is an informative digression, which examines how Roy's own education and bilingualism influenced the way she wrote, and the ample historical context will be useful for readers unfamiliar with Manitoba's cultural background. Roy's complex relationship with the French and English languages manifests itself through her ambivalent attitude towards Canadian identity, an ambivalence that is explored in both her autobiographical and fictional works. Her writings often reveal linguistic and cultural tensions between groups of people (for example, through the use of code-switching by certain characters). Chapman demonstrates that Roy's hyper-awareness of language is neither simple nor political, but rather a reflection of her personal background and experiences. Roy's journalistic preoccupation with migrant families, indigenous people, and immigrants offers additional [End Page 506] insight into her interest in intercultural communications as well as her self-identification as a cultural outsider. Chapman explores this sentiment and its effect on Roy's writings in Chapter 3, part of which appeared in an earlier version in a special issue of French Review in 2005 on the subject of 'Le Québec et le Canada francophone'. Particularly compelling is Chapman's fourth chapter, on the English translations of Roy's fictional works. Chapman reminds us that it was the English translation of Bonheur d'occasion (1945) — The Tin Flute (1947) — that established Roy's international reception. A comparison of key citations from Roy's fictional works in French and in English demonstrates the difficulties of translation and the degree to which Roy's play with language and linguistic choices becomes invisible in the English versions. These translations, or rather the changes or omissions within, reveal thought-provoking problems of assimilation and colonial power relations. After reading Chapman's analysis, it would be difficult to read Roy — in English or in French — without keeping in mind the author's own point of reference as a bilingual, bicultural outsider.

Rebecca Linz
City University of New York


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pp. 506-507
Launched on MUSE
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