Canada Reads 2019

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins

Actor Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette tries to solve the enigma of her grandmother's life in her memoir Suzanne.
Suzanne is an English translation of Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's 2015 French novel, La femme qui fuit. (Coach House Books, Owen Egan)

Suzanne, written by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and translated by Rhonda Mullins, is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlistCanada Reads 2019 is about finding one book to move you. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 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

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

Rhonda Mullins is a writer and translator.She received the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award. Karen Mair recently spoke with her. 5:43

More about Suzanne from CBC Radio

Fiction writer Catherine Leroux on the Quebec writers English Canada should be reading. 11:50

Other books translated by Rhonda Mullins

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