Books·Canada Reads 2019

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette tries to solve the enigma of her grandmother's life in her memoir Suzanne.

Defended by Yanic Truesdale

Yanic Truesdale is defending the novel Suzanne by Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins, on Canada Reads 2019. (CBC)

Suzanne, written by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and translated by Rhonda Mullins, will be defended by Yanic Truesdale on Canada Reads 2019.

The 2019 debates will take place March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan

About Suzanne

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her mother's mother. Curious to understand why her grandmother, Suzanne, a sometime painter and poet associated with Les Automatistes, a movement of dissident artists that included Paul-Émile Borduas, abandoned her husband and young family, Barbeau-Lavalette hired a private detective to piece together Suzanne's life.

Suzanne, winner of the Prix des libraires du Québec and a bestseller in French, is a fictionalized account of Suzanne's life over 85 years, from Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism and an asylum. It takes readers through the Great Depression, Québec's Quiet Revolution, women's liberation and the American civil rights movement, offering a portrait of a volatile, fascinating woman on the margins of history. And it's a granddaughter's search for a past for herself, for understanding and forgiveness. (From Coach House Books

Watch the book trailer

Suzanne trailer

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Canada Reads trailer for Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins.

Why Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette wrote Suzanne

"When I began to write, I didn't have the link I have now with my grandmother. It was not something I could have foreseen. What is beautiful — more than beautiful, magical — is that at the end I came to a place of forgiveness. I was able to reflect on what she gave me with her absence. It became clear to me that I would not be the same without this inheritance. And now I feel free.

What is beautiful — more than beautiful, magical — is that at the end I came to a place of forgiveness. I was able to reflect on what she gave me with her absence.- Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

"I have three kids and we're trying to create this contemporary invention: how to be free and at the same time, how to cultivate the links and the love that we have for our kids, our friends, our lovers. For my kids now, the story has been repaired. And what is beautiful is that other people now — with this book — are repairing their stories." 

Read more in Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's interview with CBC Books.

Why Catherine Leroux thinks everyone should read Suzanne

"It's a beautiful book. Anaïs is the daughter of documentary filmmaker Manon Barbeau, granddaughter of abstract painter Marcel Barbeau and artist Suzanne Meloche. Marcel and Suzanne were among the famous group, the signers of a manifesto called Le Refus Global — Total Refusal — in 1948. The text rejected the religious conservatism that was pervasive in Quebec at the time. And the couple apparently felt suffocated by the moral order and for that reason and many others, felt that it was very difficult to be parents. When Anaïs's mother, Manon was three and her little brother one, Suzanne decided to abandon them. 

It's so passionate. It's harsh. It's sensitive. It's full of powerful images.- Catherine Leroux

"What makes the book so poignant and beautiful is her style. It's so passionate. It's harsh. It's sensitive. It's full of powerful images. She has a way of making the reader feel physical sensations that the characters are experiencing. It's amazing. I don't know how she did it." 

Listen to Catherine Leroux's interview with The Next Chapter.

From the book

The first time you saw me, I was one hour old. You were old enough to have courage. 

Fifty, maybe. 

It was at St. Justine Hospital. I had just come into the world. I already had a big appetite. I drank her milk like I make love now, like it's the last time. 

My mother had just given birth to me. Her daughter, her firstborn. 

I imagine you entering the room. Your face round like ours. Your dark eyes heavily lined in kohl. 

You enter unapologetically. Walking confidently. Even though it has been 27 years since you last saw my mother. 

From Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins ©2017. Published by Coach House Books. 

Interviews with Rhonda Mullins

Suzanne's award-winning translator speaks with Chris dela Torre on Afternoon Drive.
Rhonda Mullins is a writer and translator.She received the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award. Karen Mair recently spoke with her.

Interviews with Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette on being fearless when writing about your past

5 years ago
Duration 3:51
In this special Canada Reads 2019 edition of the CBC Books' video series, Barbeau-Lavalette talks about why it’s important to make your voice heard.
Author Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and translator Rhonda Mullins on their Canada Reads contender, Suzanne.

More about Suzanne from CBC Radio

Yanic Truesdale on exploring the nature of rejection and hard choices

5 years ago
Duration 1:16
Actor Yanic Truesdale who is defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette talked about why his own family background helps him appreciate the issues raised the book.

Why Yanic Truesdale chose Suzanne for Canada Reads

"Suzanne is the poignant story of a woman who felt she had no choice but to abandon her young children and husband to fulfill her true destiny. The story takes place at a time the Catholic Church was a major influence in Quebec society and when there were no role models for women who wanted more for themselves than being a mother or a wife.

It's about forgiveness, what it means to be an artist, cultural identity and understanding your past to fully embrace your present.- Yanic Truesdale

"This is a powerful book, full of rage and love. It's about forgiveness, what it means to be an artist, cultural identity and understanding your past to fully embrace your present. I was hooked by the first page."

Read more in Yanic Truesdale's interview with CBC Books.

Yanic Truesdale on Suzanne

Lisa Ray & Yanic Truesdale on the double standard between male and female artists

4 years ago
Duration 1:07
Lisa Ray and Yanic Truesdale defend the novel Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and translated by Rhonda Mullins.
Gilmore Girls actor Yanic Truesdale talks about becoming a Canada Reads panellist and the book he's chosen to champion.

About Yanic Truesdale

​Yanic Truesdale is a Montreal-born actor best known for his portrayal of Michel Gerard in the much loved television series Gilmore Girls. He began his television career in the long-running Canadian series He Shoots, He Scores and was nominated for a Gemini Award for his role on the Québécois sitcom Majeurs et vaccinésTruesdale lives part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in his native Montreal, where he opened a spin studio called Spin Énergie in 2011.

The Canada Reads 2019 contenders

Other books translated by Rhonda Mullins