Based on the poem of the same name by Longfellow, Evangeline tells the story of the Great Upheaval, the forcible removal of the French Catholic Acadians from their lands in present-day Nova Scotia by the British. Britain was at war with France in 1755, and the Acadians were seen as a potential threat. Moreover, they held land coveted by British colonials. The Acadians were imprisoned and dispersed throughout the British colonies, where harsh conditions took a huge toll on the population. Eventually many of the survivors settled in New Orleans. Life is breathed into this tragic historical event by showing how it affected the lives of individuals, most particularly Evangeline and Gabriel, young lovers separated on the night before their wedding. Their desire to reunite keeps them alive and gives them a reason to struggle on despite the hardship and indignity they must face throughout the next ten years. Readers follow their arduous and circuitous route to New Orleans.
The book is beautifully written and does a good job of bringing the characters to life. They are not always likeable, but they are understandable. The pacing is somewhat uneven, with some parts that are breathtaking and others that seem to be passing time until there is reason to move forward again. But even in the quieter moments, it is interesting to see how the Acadians manage to help one another survive. Evangeline is symbolic of the strength of love and of a people’s capacity for endurance.