Promises to Keep by Genevieve Graham

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!

Grand Pre, Nova Scotia (2012)

The willow trees of Grand Pre.

Further Reading:

Review by James Fisher (blogger at The Miramichi Reader) at Books & Benches

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.

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16 thoughts on “Promises to Keep by Genevieve Graham

  1. whatmeread says:

    Interesting subject matter! The only thing I’ve ever read on this subject is the poem “Evangeline,” which we had to read in 8th grade, or maybe 9th.

  2. Vijayalakshmi Harish says:

    Great post! This isn’t a bit of history I’m familiar with and so it’s something new for me to explore. Also, great photographs 😊

  3. DoingDewey says:

    I’ve also only read about this in Evangeline, but that’s sad enough, I’m not sure I want to read any more. This sounds really good though and I love the cover!

  4. buriedinprint says:

    I found her first book a little heavy on the romance for my taste, but even then I did appreciate the backdrop of history that she created for readers, and it sounds like this might be even more prominent in this story. Glad to read your thoughts on it and glad these subplots are getting some ink!

    • Naomi says:

      I felt the same way about Tides of Honour (although I still appreciated many parts of it). I liked this one more, because the romance was more in the background, and I think also because it wasn’t as long – I think I remember feeling like Tides of Honour could have been shorter.
      Her style of writing isn’t usually my taste, but I’ve definitely been interested in the subjects she’s written about in her last two books!

  5. FictionFan says:

    Sounds fascinating – another episode in history I was entirely unaware of. But it does make me think of the Highland Clearances, which I assume is the event that drove Callum from his home. Also for commercial reasons – sheep were so much more profitable than pesky humans…

      • FictionFan says:

        Probably, then, though it’s a little earlier than I think of the Clearances as such. But only by a few years, and these things are always hard to be too specific about.

  6. susan says:

    Thanks for link at the top from the Canadian Encyclopedia — I’m learning my Canadian history little by little and who the Acadians are. This novel sounds like a good one about the Expulsion. It seemed a fast read for you!

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