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La Sagouine Paperback – Oct 26 2007

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"Grady's translation flows . . . smoothly, capturing the urgency of the character"s unschooled thoughts." — The Walrus (2013-01-09)

From the Inside Flap

"So maybe I do have a bit of dirt on my face and my skin's all cracked, but at least my hands are clean! They ought to be, I've had them in water long enough." La Sagouine, Antonine Maillet's famous Acadian scrubwoman, leans on her mop and tells her story. And what a story!

At seventy-two, the former part-time prostitute is still dirt-poor; of her twelve babies, only the three born in the summer have survived. One tale leads to another: La Saguoine reminisces, rants, and prognosticates about the moon landing, her husband Gapi, the priest and his church, the rich for whom she cleans, and her impoverished friends and relatives, all the while telling the story of Acadie itself.

In La Sagouine, Maillet first gave written form to the language of Acadie, a language which, she says, has been "distorted by the climate and sharpened by the sea; by the salty air in the larynx and the obsessive beating of the waves in the ears." Her scrubwoman gave disenfranchised Acadians an authentic voice and established Maillet as a writer of international stature.

In this sensitive new translation, Wayne Grady brings out the cultural richness of La Sagouine's speech as well as the legendary old scrubwoman's strength of character and irrepressible humour.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Life remembered from a rocking chair Feb. 23 2006
By Vincent Poirier - Published on
Format: Paperback
"La Sagouine" is a series of monologues written by Antonine Maillet in the Acadian French dialect today called Chiac (shee-ak). The main character, La Sagouine, a poor humble cleaning woman, recounts episodes of her life in her small village. While rocking back and forth on stage she reflects on many aspects of society, often pointing out class differences between rich and poor. Maillet uses La Sagouine's acceptance of her lot to stir outrage in the audience. For example, La Sagouine accepts as perfectly normal that at a public event like the parish Christmas fair, rich children get new toys while the poor get broken hand-me-downs.

The opening sentence immediately defines the character: "J'ai p'têt la face nouére, mais j'ai les mains blanches", or in English "I maybe got a black face, but I got white hands". Her dirty face indicates her low caste while her white hands represent her menial status as a washer woman and also symbolize her engaging honesty.

The original one-woman plays were created on stage by actress Viola Leger and were a staple of French Canadian television in the late 70s and early 80s.

In writing a dialect, Ms. Maillet surpasses, in my mind, Margaret Mitchell's black dialects in "Gone With The Wind" or Emily Bronte's Yorkshire dialect in "Wuthering Heights". The book is short but, in the original French at least, it is long to read because we can't speed read if we want to savour the rich sounds of Chiac.

Vincent Poirier, Tokyo