Children of My Heart

Written by Alan Brown (trans.) Gabrielle Roy
Review by Claire Morris Bernard

Gabrielle Roy, beloved of the Canadian literary establishment, died in 1983. Ces enfants de ma vie was her last novel. This edition of Alan Brown’s translation was published to coincide with the television film.

The narrator, a young schoolmistress, tells the stories of her early teaching years in three parts. Two of her posts are in poor prairie villages, the other in a town enlivened by immigrants. The reader eventually learns that these anecdotes occur during the Depression years in Manitoba. These anecdotes, centering about various pupils, constitute the entire novel. Much is left untold. Roy offers almost no glimpse of her narrator’s background, the communities in which the narrator teaches, or the world beyond. I suspect this was intentional, and certainly it emphasizes the isolation of the inexperienced outsider teacher, and the desolation of the times. But as a reader who delights in references to concrete places and events, I struggled with this aspect of the novel.

The unnamed teacher’s influence on the lives of the children appears like a light in a lake of dark drudgery. And their influences on her, especially those of the unforgettable Médéric, push back the tedium of everyday adulthood she so fears. As she learns about life, she shares poignant observations. One example: “Keenness and fire are not lasting things. Life snuffs them out the way you bury a prairie fire.” Gems like these lift this novel into prize-winning echelons. Small wonder it netted Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction.