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Métis language and culture stimulate the intelligent narrator

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Louis Riel, an ardent advocate of the Métis, once said: “We must cherish our heritage. History must be written to convey it.”

Francophone local author Métis Mathieu Tetro takes these words at the heart of his contemporary, thought-provoking, ornate debut novel. Set in his hometown of Sainte-Anne and Winnipeg, the story explores Matisse’s French identity through the eyes of a young man struggling to move on with his life.

Tetro holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Alberta. He was awarded the Gold Medal for Academic Excellence from the Governor General for his thesis on the literary history of Almatys Red River. Already posted related newsgroup What happened in Bloodvein in 2015. The movie shows the Métis characters who live in southeastern Manitoba. In fact, the protagonist of his novel is a character who first appears in one of these stories.

Hold your tongue

At the beginning of the novel, Richard is in a rut. Six years out of high school, he was laid off from his job at a powder coat factory, his girlfriend moved to Winnipeg, and he drove a trailer part-time. Should he stay in St. Ann’s with a dead-end job, or join his girlfriend in Winnipeg? Richard can’t decide.

Things go from bad to worse when his great-uncle Alfred has a stroke, because the old man is like his grandfather to him. As Alfred’s condition worsens, Richard spends time with his family at Ste. Ann Winnipeg.

The plot thickens as he learns much about the history of the Métis through stories told by family members of land disputes, long-kept secrets, and the removal of French language rights. Armed with this new knowledge, Richard must then confront his feelings about being a Metis and make important decisions.

Written in impeccable and witty prose, Tetro’s story consists of four sections that come and go from time to time. The first chapters introduce us to Ste. Anne’s company while Richard searches for his father to tell him about Alfred. The second part takes place in Winnipeg during Alfred’s hospitalization. It is located in Winnipeg and Ste. Anne, parts three and four deal with later developments in the life of Richard and his family.

Throughout the novel, Tetroux’s keen ear for dialogue is evident in his use of the French spoken by the townspeople. By fusing their version of the language with some English, they provide readers with context for the verbal exchanges. It also immerses us in the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of language, thus supporting and enriching the novel.