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The Tale of Don L'Orignal

The Tale of Don L'Orignal

Winner of the 1979 Governor General's Award for fiction, Antonine Maillet's virtuoso creation, The Tale of Don L'Orignal, is now back in print. Maillet's tale begins one day, not so very long ago but back in the youth of the world, when a hay-covered island materialized off shore, an island populated by fleas who soon took human form. The leader of this uncouth crew of have-nots, Don l'Orignal, wore a moose-antler crown as his badge of office. At his right hand were his brave lieutenants: his son, Noume, and his general, Michel-Archange. The general's wife, the doughty charwoman, spy, and rabble-rouser La Sagouine, had one finger in every pie and one raised to her neighbour, La Sainte.

The Flea Islanders were constantly at odds with the almost as clever but far more civilized upper crust of the mainland village: the mayoress, the schoolteacher, the merchant, the banker. When they invaded and tried to steal a keg of molasses, the outcome of the mock-heroic battle was unclear, except that La Sainte's son, the hapless young Citrouille, and Adeline, the merchant's lovely daughter, had fallen in love.

With the insider's accumulation of oral history, gossip, and shrewd hindsight, Antonine Maillet has conjured up a fictional Acadia that her ancestors would relish. Perhaps those who could read it would have even understood it: she wrote Don l'Orignal in a version of 16th-century domestic French that she adapted for modern readers. In this far-fetched, but always entertaining fable, Maillet holds up a mirror to Acadian history and to an all too fallible human nature.


Antonine Maillet is one of Canada's best-known writers. Among her many honours are the Prix Goncourt, which she received for her novel Pélagie-la-charette, the first non-French citizen to do so, and the Governor General's Award for fiction for Don L'Orignal, both available in translation from Goose Lane Editions.

Barbara Godard teaches English and Women`s Studies at York University. Her nimble translation of The Tale of Don l'Orignal, the first of her many distinguished book-length translations, recreates the spirit and the raucous dialogue in an English that's colourful, familiar, and just strange enough to capture the magic of the Fleas.

113 pages
Pub date: July 30, 2004