Guido, le roman d'un immigrant by Rita Amabili-Rivet
Montreal: Hurtubise HMH, 2004. 350
this historical novel Rita Amabili-Rivet, a French-language Quebec writer of
Italian origin, pays homage to her father – and to all immigrants – and calls for acceptance and tolerance
among all cultures. Guido is also
atribute to the notion of holding on to our roots – the places and the people
who have contributed to the making of our present.
Guido is the story of the author’s
ancestors and particularly her father. (The author was born in Montreal in 1954
to Guido Amabili and Éva Lofort.) The book illustrates the power of conjugal
and familial love, which allows one to surmount injustice as well as physical
and emotional pain. That love comes through in the narrative voice, indicating
the narrator’s affinity for the characters – some were real people the author
knew growing up in Quebec, others she created to facilitate the narration in
narrative begins with Guido’s birth in Italy in 1912 and ends with his death in
present-day Canada. Guido arrived in Montreal in 1929 at the age of 17. His
immediate and extended family were agricultural labourers who scraped a meagre
living in the Marche region of central Italy. Set in rural Italy, the first
half of the novel is a detailed description of the relationship of men, women
and children to the earth,
which recalls novels by Zola and Ringuet. At the age
of five, Guido is already trained to work the vegetable garden without
supervision. Amabili-Rivet’s characters live a daily routine of intense labour
essential to their survival.
tries to stay faithful to historical events, describing in detail the effects
of World War I on Italian peasants, many of whom were forced onto the
battlefield. When the narrative moves to Quebec, the author minutely describes
the difficult socio-economic situation of French Canada between the wars as
well as the racism that Italian immigrants encountered upon their arrival.
Guido is about bridging cultures – the
Italian, the Canadian, the Italian-Canadian and the Quebecois – and about
establishing a dialogue between the present, the past and the future
generations. Just before Guido’s death, the narrator reiterates the narratorial
refrain: ‘Mon enfant te perpétuera.’ In the Prologue Guido’s daughter
emphasizes the importance of roots ‘pour un arbre comme pour les êtres humains’
– a notion she has imparted to her own children. Vincent, Guido’s grandchild and the
author’s son, says about the tree that Guido had planted in the yard: ‘Un arbre
que mon grand-père a planté de ses
mains dans la terre de son pays d’adoption, pour lui faire prendre de nouvelles
racines en se gardant d’oublier celles qu’il avait déjà et qui partaient de sa
sève.’ Valuing our heritage is important, but
so is establishing new roots and building on them: ‘Des racines entremêlées, il
n’y a rien de plus fort.’ As a final indication of intercultural and
intergenerational dialogue, at the end of the book, the author includes a
letter (in the original Italian and French translation) from a distant cousin
that she encountered while researching the book.
Guido: Le roman d’un immigrant is a significant contribution to
Quebec literature, Canadian writing and to the field of ethnic minority writing.
Amabili-Rivet’s text is an important account of the socio-historical events
which led to the migration from Italy during the inter-war period. As such, Guido is a refreshing outlook on
immigration, setting itself apart from the majority of literary texts on
Italians in Canada which tend to focus on the post-World War II period.
known as a writer of children’s drama and poetry, Rita Amabili-Rivet dedicated
nearly a decade to researching and writing Guido.
The extensive bibliography included in the book attests to the author’s
detailed research. Guido is a well-researched, well-written historical
novel which will appeal to the general public. It is also a valuable tool in
academic circles. We can only hope that the English
translation, which is already being planned, will be available soon.
published in Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2,
2005, pages 129-130.