Once there was a boy who grew up feeling like he couldn’t do anything right. No one would give him the time of day, and everything that went wrong was blamed on him. So he went far away, deep into the woods, to live by himself. On the same day there was a girl who was running away from her abusive father and her poor dead mother. The girl took up residence with a pharmacist in a small town and learned about the uses of plants. She loved going into the woods to search for these plants. One day she heard some beautiful music coming from deep in the woods, and decided to find out where it was coming from.
We often imagine that love must gush forth spontaneously, surround itself with disarming turmoil, and blossom with a roar. Yet love also advances with muffled tread.
Sometimes it hurts to live.
This story is about life, death, healing, and forgiveness. Besides the girl and boy, there are a few other characters in the book who play a vital part; a respected doctor, disappointed in love; a school teacher with a mysterious past; and a little girl who grows up in the shade of a Tamarack tree.
They shivered in the slightest breeze, and listening to them made one a poet.
Elena’s gaze, though, was always focused farther away, as far as the tamaracks that stood out in the background like merry acrobats. Neither broad-leafed or conifers, they formed a separate group, a somewhat crazy orchestra in the midst of sensible and careful musicians.
There is something about this story that is comforting, even as you are crying your eyes out. Maybe it’s in the way the story is told; the simple prose, the magical fairy-tale quality. Or maybe it’s the steadfastness of the supporting characters.
When I got to the end, it brought to mind the children’s book, Something From Nothing, where the young boy in the story is given a blanket when he is born. He loves it so much that it gets raggedy and he brings it to his grandfather to fix. His grandfather cuts off the ruined pieces and makes something else out of it. This happens again and again until there is nothing left of it. But the boy still figures out how to make something from nothing.
Although the stories are not alike, maybe it’s the message that is the same. We need to learn how to make the best of what we have, and that, even out of loss and change, can come something beautiful.
The Douglas Notebooks is both a beautiful book to look at and to read. It was translated from French by Sheila Fischman. The French edition of The Douglas Notebooks won the 2008 Prix France-Quebec, the 2009 Prix Senghor du Premier Roman Francophone, and the 2010 Prix du Club des Irresistibles.