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W. Donald Wilson and Paul G. Socken’s translation of Aaron, by Québécois author Yves Thériault, makes this fine novel available in English for the first time.
An exploration of “otherness,” the story centres on Moishe, an Orthodox Jew and refugee from Russia, who is raising his grandson, Aaron, alone in Montreal, following the deaths of Aaron’s parents. Poverty-stricken, Moshe works as a tailor, maintains his strict adherence to Orthodoxy, and educates Aaron to follow in his path. Aaron becomes increasingly estranged from his grandfather’s ways, however, and his meeting with the militantly secular Jewish girl Viedna confirms his decision to embrace modernity, secularism, and materialism and to reject his faith entirely. The story portrays a tragically polarized situation in which neither side is able to communicate or to build an alternative world view that incorporates both tradition and modernity. Possibly Thériault’s finest novel, Aaron is a parable of our modern world and a poignant cautionary tale.
Yves Thériault (1915—1983) was one of Quebec’s most prolific writers: he wrote more than forty volumes of novels and short stories as well as children’s books and more than 1,200 scripts for radio plays and others for television. His works are translated into twenty languages and won many literary awards, including the Governor General’s Award in 1960.
After teaching in England and the West Indies, W. Donald Wilson joined the faculty of the University of Waterloo in 1970, where he remained until his retirement. A former chair of the Department of French Studies at UW, he has translated both fiction and non-fiction books for publishers in the US and Canada.
Paul G. Socken has been on the faculty of University of Waterloo for thirty-three years. He is a former chair of the Department of French Studies and is the author of seven books and many scholarly articles published in France, Canada, and the United States. His area of specialization is French-Canadian literature.
“A new generation of readers will now be able to read the evocative tale of a Jewish boy and his Orthodox grandfather’s becoming irrevocably estranged in multicultural Montreal in the 1950s.”
— David Lazarus, The Canadian Jewish News
“What an extraordinary novel this is! Why have we been so oblivious to its striking focus on cultural differences and to the marvel of its street-level urban vibrancy? Light years before Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain Street, and Michel Tremblay’s colourful Plateau Mont-Royal, this is Yves Thériault’s Montreal, a city of migration and encounters. First published n 1954, Aaron is a prismatic story structured by the intersecting voices of different faiths and different cultural traditions. This is a novel of intense questioning about the future of multicultural societies. For Aaron, Moishe, Malak, Viedna, and the other searching characters created by Thériault, the inexorable movement of the city offers a redeeming wisdom against the pervading melancholy of tradition. This excellent translation of a major Thériault novel is indeed a gentle and timely invitation to reconstruct the complex landscapes of our cultural nodernity.”
— François Paré, University of Waterloo
“A literary masterpiece, Aaron, a heartbreaking novel about tradition versus modernity by later French-Canadian author Yves Thériault, was recently translated into English....‘The beauty of the book is in its balance,’ [Paul] Socken [who translated it] explains. ‘I think Thériault wanted people to see what happens when there’s no middle ground. There’s right and wrong on both sides.’... ‘The tragedy is that there was no mediation.... It’s a very timely cautionary tale.’ ”
— Atara Beck, Jewish Tribune
By the same author
Babies for the Nation: The Medicalization of Motherhood in Quebec, 1910-1970, Denyse Baillargeon; W. Donald Wilson, translator
A Brief History of Women in Quebec, Denyse Baillargeon; W. Donald Wilson, translator