The Island of Books

Author Dominique Fortier and translator Rhonda Mullins have both won the Governor General's Award.

Dominique Fortier, translated by Rhonda Mullins

A 15th-century portrait painter, grieving the sudden death of his lover, takes refuge at the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of France. He haunts the halls until a monk assigns him the task of copying a manuscript — though he is illiterate. His work slowly heals him and continues the tradition that had, centuries earlier, grown the monastery's library into a beautiful city of books, all under the shadow of the invention of the printing press. (From Coach House Books)

From the book

The first time I saw it I was thirteen years-old, that limbo of an age between childhood and adolescence when you already know who you are but don't yet know if that's who you will ever be. It was like love at first sight. I don't remember anything very specific, aside from a certainty, a wonder so deep it was like a stupor: I had found the place I had always been looking for, without realizing it, without even knowing it existed.

Twenty-five years would pass before I would see it again. When the time came to return, I suggested that we not go: we didn't have much time before we had to head back to Paris; they were calling for rain; it would probably be crawling with tourists. In truth, I was afraid, the way you're afraid any time you go back to the places of your childhood, afraid of finding them diminished, which means one of two things: either they appeared larger because your eyes were so small, or along the way you lost the knack for wonder, either of which is a devastating idea. But it hadn't changed, and neither had I.

From The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier ©2015, translated by Rhonda Mullins ©2016. Published by Coach House Books.


Interviews with Dominique Fortier

Catherine LeRoux talks to Shelagh Rogers about a couple of the latest books in translation. 10:35

More about The Island of Books

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



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.