A CBC Canada Reads 2015 Selection! Finalist for the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for French-to-English Translation Deep in a Northern Ontario forest live Tom and Charlie, two octogenarians determined to live out the rest of their lives on their own terms: free of all ties and responsibilities, their only connection to civilization two pot farmers who bring them whatever they can't eke out for themselves. But their solitude is disrupted by the arrival of two women. The first is a photographer searching for survivors of a series of catastrophic fires nearly a century earlier; the second is an elderly escapee from a psychiatric institution. The little hideaway in the woods will never be the same. Originally published in French, And the Birds Rained Down ,the recipient of several prestigious prizes, including the Prix de Cinq Continents de la Francophonie, is a haunting meditation on aging and self-determination.
About the Author
Jocelyne Saucier (born 27 May 1948 in Clair, New Brunswick) is a Canadian novelist and journalist based in Quebec.
Educated in political science at the Université Laval, Saucier worked as a journalist in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec before publishing her debut novel, La Vie comme une image, in 1996. That book was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction at the 1996 Governor General's Awards. Her second novel, Les Héritiers de la mine, was a finalist for the Prix France-Québec in 2001, and her third novel, Jeanne sur les routes, was a finalist at the 2006 Governor General's Awards. Her fourth novel, Il pleuvait des oiseaux, won the Prix France-Québec, the Prix Ringuet, the Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie, the Prix des lecteurs de Radio-Canada and the Prix littéraire des collégiens, while And the Birds Rained Down, its English translation by Rhonda Mullins, was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for French to English translation at the 2013 Governor General's Awards.
Il pleuvait des oiseaux was selected for the 2013 edition of Le Combat des livres, where it was championed by dancer and broadcaster Geneviève Guérard. And the Birds Rained Down was defended by Martha Wainwright in the 2015 edition of Canada Reads.
Here's What We Thought - What Do You Think?
Many thanks to Anita for providing us with excellent background information on the Matheson fires and for introducing us to blogger, Matilda Magtree, and her “this is not a review” of Saucier’s book which presented an insightful perspective on the work.
This slim book won France’s prestigious Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie. Award winning translator, Rhonda Mullen, provided the English version which was short-listed for Canada Reads in 2015. What is it about this tale that has earned it respect and recognition?
Blogger Magtree lists all the things she thinks it is not about, and then says “It is… however, about dignity. How we see people, how we expect or allow them to live. How we can choose to help or hinder or judge. It’s about the kind of communities we want and the kind we build”. While, on the whole, we agreed with this premise, there were many other facets of the novel that we needed and wanted to explore.
Charlie, Tom and Ted were fiercely independent. They lived separately but provided support and comfort for each other while living by a code of noninterference. They demanded control over their lives… and their deaths. Their tins of strychnine ensured that when life became too difficult, when they were going to lose that control, they could choose death.
The death of Ted and the arrival of Marie-Desneiges changed their community. Ted had died naturally. Taking care of Marie-Desneiges took thought, time and effort – “the talk of death stopped.” Of course this led to a discussion of the physician assisted suicide legislation, the will to live, and the will to die.
It was refreshing to read about the lives of these people in their eighties and to actually read a tender, sensitive scene about senior sex. That led to thoughts about how society views and treats people who are different – the old, the mentally ill, the disabled. Do we try to understand? Theirs was a very accepting community and everyone lived (and died) with dignity.
There was so much more that could be said. Why did the photographer remain unnamed? How did the films of the Fort McMurray fire deepen our understanding or visualization of the Matheson fires? Not all members loved the book – did the characters have substance? Were they believable? We’d love to know what you think! Please add your thoughts in the Comment Section.