Today’s post is my stop for Genevieve Graham’s latest, Promises to Keep for Simon & Schuster Canada’s Timeless Tour. For more details, follow the link here.
Promises to Keep
by Genevieve Graham
One of the best things I love about Historical Fiction is that it awakens a hunger in me to learn more. It’s an appetite that forces me to go beyond the storylines and seek the basis of the novel.
After devouring this in practically one sitting, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know much about the history of this great nation. I didn’t go to school here; even though I’ve been living here for 20+ years now. Other than the brief history I needed to learn in order for me to get my Canadian citizenship status; the current events, political or otherwise, my knowledge about this great country of mine is pretty paltry. Thanks to this book, I’ve developed an interest in the Expulsion of the Acadian people in the 17th century.
On the surface, Promises to Keep is a story about the romantic entanglement between an Acadian and English soldier. But on the large, it’s about the resiliency of the Acadian people at a time when they were forced out of their land and imprisoned in a ship on their way to exile. It is also about the fierce relationship between the Mi’kmaq people and the French Canadians. This was an especially curious interest to me the most.
Over the course of history, all we’ve ever known about the relationships between the indigenous people and the invaders of their land was how it was ripe with contempt and ill will. But the Mi’kmaq people and the French had developed a friendship that left the English confounded. Perhaps it was in this resulting uncanny camaraderie that the Acadian hoped for a better outcome of the invasion.
The Acadian people wanted to believe that they can live in harmony with the English soldiers. They showed little to no resistance; they fed them even. But they would soon realize that the dictates of war offer no such euphony. The English would leave them homeless first, then confined in the bellows of a ship sailing the perilous Atlantic Ocean towards the South.
Before the invasion, Genevieve depicted the idyllic life of the Acadians set in the backdrop of a lush farming land and the giving sea. There were conviviality and togetherness in the small population of Grand Pre. Unfortunately, the serenity would not last. Through her words, she also conveyed their hardship during the invasion. The more often hopelessness of their situation: the hunger, the filth they had to wade through, and their resolve to see through their plight no matter how desperate their situation.
And amidst this struggle, was the budding and tremulous romance between Amelie and Connor MacDonnell. It’s one that’s forbidden, dangerous but all the more important because their entanglement was the flint the Acadian needed to spark their resistance. MacDonnell was first burdened with a choice between doing his duties as a soldier and doing what’s right for Amelie’s people. But given his history with the British Army, this choice soon became less of a burden but more of the end justifying the means.
He was once a victim of the English invasion as well. He’s a Scot who had seen and tasted what the English were capable of when they marauded Scotland. After his entire family was killed during the war, he was left with no other choice but to become a soldier in service of the Queen. Even if he was full of hatred for the English. Which is why the decision to betray them even it means his death came to him easily.
Amelie was a strong woman who had to make hard decisions as well but never did she wallow or second guessed herself knowing what was at stake. She had a fierce love and loyalty to her family; a sense of belonging with the Mi’kmaq people, and love for her land that had given them so much over the years.
I started reading this book at noon on a Sunday. I finished reading it on my ride to work the following day. If you’ve ever considered Historical Fiction boring, Promises to Keep was far from it. Genevieve Graham rendered the most romantic landscape of the East Coast amidst the imperious haze of a brewing war. This book was a measly 300+ pages. But it offered so much perspective and connection to the characters and the history.