Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, 200 pgs, Freehand Books, freehand-books.com, $21.95
When her son is born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, a mother watches in agony as a doctor tries to resuscitate him until “at last the baby uttered a first tentative croak like a frog unsure of spring’s arrival.” The child survives this, but is hounded by death until he dies of pneumonia as a young man.
Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau’s novel, Winter Child, translated into English from French by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli, chronicles the story of a Métis mother grieving for the death of her son. Shifting between third- and first-person narration, it explores the lingering effects of colonial violence and intergenerational trauma family and gender expectations.
Bordeleau’s writing is beautiful, filled with stunning meditations on parenthood, grief, forgiveness, and intimacy. One of my favourite lines comes at the end of the novel, in a chapter from the son’s perspective as he tries to offer his mother comfort even after death: “Live in peace, ma mère. You sleep next to the fragments of my bones. You have planted a tree on my ashes to watch over your dreams and to know I still live close by, the guardian of your lands.”
Winter Child is ultimately about reclaiming life in the wake of a lost loved one. The mother is only able to find solace in her son’s death by reconnecting with Indigenous spirituality, and opening herself up to friendship and romance. Bordeleau’s novel delicately and honestly traces how grief can rupture a life, and shows how love and kindness can repair it. (Alexander De Pompa)