Friday, June 10, 2016

Canadian Living Book Review: Evangeline and the Acadians

What I have been calling "Canadian living books" are not necessarily Canadian books. They are rather books of particular interest to Canadians, whether because they are by Canadian authors, or because they are about Canadian history or culture. Evangeline and the Acadians is written by an American, Robert Tallant, and it is of interest to both Canadians and Americans, particularly those in Atlantic Canada and in Louisiana. This book is number 74 in the out of print "Landmark Books" series. I found it at my library, and have ordered a used copy online. (Check for used books in order of cost including shipping to you.)

Is it written by a single author with a passion for his subject?

Robert Tallant is from Louisiana, and has written several books on Louisiana history. His interest in Acadian history comes from that aspect. This shows most clearly in his chapter on the culture of Acadians in Louisiana as of the time of his writing (1957). However, Canadian readers should not be overly concerned about this, as all Acadian history is interconnected. This is a sweeping history, from the founding of the first permanent French colony in North America in Nova Scotia in 1604, to the Acadian deportation, to the wanderings that followed until many had settled permanently in Louisiana.

Canadians will find Tallant's description of Acadian culture both similar and different from Acadian culture in Atlantic Canada today. For example, his description of the dialect spoken in Louisiana has similar features to the "Chiac" I've heard in New Brunswick, though the contributing languages are different. If you are not familiar with Acadian culture, you may want to find an additional source to tell more about what Acadian life is like in Canada. Also, I want to learn more about how the Acadians who live in Canada made their way back here in the 1770's, as this was not covered in the book.

Tallant has more interest in Acadian history in general than in Evangeline, the heroine of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His concern with Evangeline is mostly to provide the historical context for the poem, though he does provide some detail as to how the story came to Longfellow.

Does it have ideas, not just facts?

I have to be honest here, I wasn't sure about this when I started reading the book. The first chapter was rather dry. However, as I progressed through the book, there was more description and more discussion about the motivations of the French and the British. Certainly the story of the deportation and the wandering afterwards was heart-wrenching to imagine.

Is it well-written?
The writing is to the point and does not call attention to itself. Once I got into it, I didn't stop until I finished the book. I think that says something. People who are not interested in history may find it a bit dry. My own children will have enough connections to the story by the time we read it that I think they will be drawn in. (I am hoping to take some field trips...)

Is it inspiring?

The story of the Acadians is a story of a hard-working people who built a good life for themselves. When it was all taken away from them there was some very human bitterness as they went through great hardship far from home. However, in the end many came together again and built a new life for themselves. Their strength is inspiring.

For what age group would this book be a good fit?
I think this book would be a good fit for grades 3 and up. I haven't made a definite plan yet, but I anticipate using it with SA(7) as a school book this coming year, alongside Longfellow's "Evangeline". I will come back and tell you how it went once we have done that.

Edited June 2017 to add: I ended up reading this book aloud to my 8, 6, and 4-year-old boys this spring as a bed-time read-aloud. I was amazed at how interested they all were. (Normally I read fiction at bedtime. Clearly nonfiction holds just as much interest for them.) I did skip some of the details specific to the US near the end of the book, and we visited our local Acadian Museum when we had finished. Having now shared this book with them, I feel much more confident in my recommendation.