Sholem Aleichem is a Jewish author who lived in the 19th century. While he wrote mainly in Yiddish, the dying Central-Eastern-European Jewish language (nowadays spoken only by orthodox communities), you can still find some of his work translated to English and Hebrew. His novels, as well as short stories, were a mirror of the Jewish society of the Shtetls – the old towns that were mostly inhabited by Orthodox Jews. In the Shtetls, each and every one knew their neighbours’ most intimate secrets and affairs, as a substitutional material for our modern-age TV if you’d like. They were fertile grounds for emotional packed stories and tales, and Sholem Aleichem played them in his novels like a gifted fiddler.
Unknowingly, or maybe intentionally, Eva Pasco takes this form of mundane socio-politics, of petty rivalries and small love affairs, and transcribed them to the North American culture and society.
Beauchemins is a placid small town on the north end of Rhode Island. Following massive French-Canadian job seeking immigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it is also a French-Canadian enclave, in the old American north. Half the population speaks French, and the other half uses French-Canadian urban phrases, which paints the town with unique fairy-talish colours, amidst its New England entourage.
The story is one of love and friendship; hate and rivalry; camaraderie and competition; all in the simplest aspect of la vie quotidian – our everyday lives.
The story is told by two adversary heroines: Augusta – the town’s ultimate seducer, and Lindsay, who comes to town to establish the local Mill’s museum. The story uses the 1st body, giving each of the frenemies a chance to express their own narrative without an ‘outside’ storyteller. In a sense, Lindsay plays the role of the outsider, digging into the town’s history for her own research and in order to forget about her failed marriage, while at the same time unveiling the town’s closeted skeletons. Augusta very much represents these skeletons: the untamed, never settled-down, town’s beauty, but also the delicate broken-home refugee, who is always on guard, with ice running in her veins, covering secrets of her own which run deeper than her well covered “Port coloured birthmark”
It all drains to a quiche competition, annually held by the town’s luncheonette, in which Augusta and Estelle, best friends, compete.
Let me start by saying: don’t read this novel on an empty stomach. Pasco’s talent for imagery will have you craving for a piece of quiche (I actually asked my wife to make one!). The author’s language is impeccable, she uses the full-scope of the English dictionary with playful phrasing to convey the storyline. Many times, the reader is expected to think and deduct for himself, not being served “the quiche” on a silver platter. Pasco treats her readers as intelligent, and spares us nothing in terms of figurative mind puzzles:
“cocooned inside the insecurity blanket of matrimonial bliss…” “…family would reap the benefits of having a cleaning lady come in once a weak. Still the dirty laundry accumulated…” and “…only I could pack a peck of pickled pluck whenever tears ventured to surface!” are just a small nosh as an example.
A word of warning! With idioms from the full spectrum of American culture, such as “jalopies” and “Miller time” the English playfulness can get rather rich to one’s taste. There was more than one occasion, when I wished Ms. Pasco would get to the point, and more than a few junctures where I had to re-read a paragraph to find the right beau-chemins (pretty roads in French).
If you love romance, if you enjoy having to think as reader and if you are an English-language enthusiast – grab your copy today. I can only reprimand Ms. Pasco for the book’s blurb and cover, both which doesn’t live up to the majestic content. I was hooked from the first forkful to the last crumb.