Published April 17th 2018 by Harper Paperbacks
This was a book that I waited for at the library and the wait was worth it. This is a fictional story based on the life of the author’s mother. It is about the Duplessis Orphans. In 1950, Maggie Hughes is the daughter of an English father and French Canadian mother. Her father wants to raise his children English as he feels the French Canadians are poorer, lower class and do not have as good a future as the English. When Maggie falls in love with the French boy on the next farm over, Gabriel, her parents send her off to live with her Aunt and Uncle. It is not until after she arrives there, that she realizes she is pregnant. Being forced to give her baby girl up for adoption, she eventually leaves home for Montreal and meets Roland whom she marries. Gabriel also moves to Montreal and marries Annie. Elodie, their baby, ends up in an orphanage and eventually a Mental Hospital as the province gets more money from the federal government for psychiatric and mental patients than they do for orphans.
The story is told by both Maggie and Elodie. Reading about the terrible treatment of the orphans falsely admitted to the hospitals is terrible. The way some of the nuns treated them made my heart break. They were born out of wedlock so were treated as sinners and below human standards. Some died under suspicious circumstances and were beaten. Both Maggie’s story and Elodie’s story are emotional. To think that these things really happened in the 1950s and 1960s is hard to believe. This is definitely a dark period in Canadian History. If you enjoy historical fiction, especially based on true stories, then read this book. If you are a Canadian, you need to read this book. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex nearby.
About the Book (From Goodreads): Philomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.
In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.
Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.
Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.
Joanna is the author of four previous novels, including The Finishing School, You Made Me Love You and Harmony. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Ottawa Citizen, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review.
Originally from Montreal, Joanna now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, and is at work on her sixth novel. She is also the owner of a well-known Toronto linen store, Au Lit Fine Linens.