Susan Glickman’s The Tale-Teller is a historical novel about the life of Canada’s earliest Jewish visitor, French immigrant Esther Brandeau, who came to the New World in 1738. In the earliest days of New France, there were no Jewish immigrants to Canada; the French colony was strictly Roman Catholic and was forcibly kept that way. Brandeau’s attempt to get by the religious gatekeepers was pretending to be a Roman Catholic boy named Jacques Le Fargue, but she didn’t get far before being detained in Quebec.
In real life, Brandeau’s story is rather short- she resisted all attempts to convert her to Catholicism and was eventually deported. Glickman’s novel, however, Brandeau is a remarkable storyteller, and weaves tales full of pirates, dolphins, and adventure, all the while teaching her captors about love and acceptance. Though it sounds tame, the novel really shines when Esther recounts her time at sea, straddling a fine line between good story and clichéd moralizing.
Glickman blends Brandeau’s story with colorful fiction into a rather fascinating tale of early Canadian life and seafaring adventures in the days of European colonization. Though protagonist Esther is more accomplished a heroine than her real-life counterpart would have been, Glickman writes her as a strong lead character. For all this, the book is a rather basic and doesn’t really pick up until Esther tells her whimsical stories. Young readers will find much to like in the book, one that almost reads like a young adult version of Life of Pi that has much to say about the power of storytelling. However, even mature readers with an interest in history will find the at least some of the story spellbinding.
Author Susan Glickman will be appearing at Hamilton’s GritLit 2013 festival, running from April 3-7.