Last year I read Genevieve Graham’s Tides of Honour, a love story set in Halifax during the time of WWI and the Halifax Explosion. Her new book, Promises to Keep is a love story set in 1755 l’Acadie (in the Grand Pré area of Nova Scotia), during the time of the deportation of the Acadians by the English.
We are upon a great and noble Scheme of sending the neutral French out of this Province, who have always been secret Enemies, and have encouraged our Savages to cut our throats. If we effect their Expulsion, it will be one of the greatest Things that ever the English did in America; for by all accounts, that Part of the Country they possess is as good Land as any in the World: In case, therefore, we could get some good English Farmers in their Room, this Province would abound with all kinds of Provisions. — News dispatch from Nova Scotia, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, September 4, 1755
Promises to Keep tells the story of Amélie and her family as their lives are disrupted and their livelihood taken away; the only one they’ve known for many generations. The English are at war with the French, and although the Acadians remain neutral, they also refuse to swear allegiance to the King of England. The English consider them a threat, so have decided to remove them from their home. Besides, the Acadians have the best farmland around, on account of their ingenious dyke system, highly coveted by the English.
In the midst of it all, Amélie gets to know one of the English soldiers. Connor is obligated to follow orders, but he doesn’t like them (being a Scot who has also recently had his home taken away by the British). He tries to help Amélie and her family as much as he can without giving himself away (the punishment for treason being death). What follows is the separate journeys Amélie and Connor find themselves on, away from everything they know, and towards what their futures have in store for them.
You must not underestimate the British Army.
This book is a love story, but the romance between the couple is very much in the background, used as a platform on which to tell a bigger story. The author does a wonderful job conveying the history of the time; the conflict between the Acadians and the English soldiers, the distress of the upheaval, the Acadians’ alliance with the Mi’kmaq, and their connections to each other and to the land they come from.
Though I could not hear the fire, the noise of breaking hearts was deafening.
There is not a lot of fiction out there about the Acadian Expulsion, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much, reading through it in just two days. My children go to one of the Acadian Schools in the province, and although we’re not of Acadian descent ourselves, we are proud of the Acadian culture here in Nova Scotia and want to be a part of its preservation. The deportation of the Acadians is an unhappy but significant part of Nova Scotia’s history, and I’m grateful to Genevieve Graham for highlighting it in one of her books. I look forward to seeing what historical event she will choose to write about next!
An excellent book for both children and adults (I read it a few years ago) is Banished From Our Home: The Acadian Diary of Angélique Richard by Sharon Stewart, one of the many books in the Dear Canada series.