Westmounter’s novel evokes the city’s past

Morgan Lowrie
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To read Nicole Peretz’s novel Une Petite Plume D’Ange is to be transported back to the St. Henri of the 1940s when clotheslines ran between houses, children played on winding duplex stairs and dipped chips into ice cream cones, and a walk up through the Glen tunnel into Westmount was like entering a fairy-tale world.

To read Nicole Peretz’s novel Une Petite Plume D’Ange is to be transported back to the St. Henri of the 1940s when clotheslines ran between houses, children played on winding duplex stairs and dipped chips into ice cream cones, and a walk up through the Glen tunnel into Westmount was like entering a fairy-tale world.

“As we walked through the tunnel, I felt the grass got greener, the trees got bigger and more beautiful,” she said. “And we could smell the bread baking in the old POM bakery, and it smelled so good!”

In her French-language book, Peretz writes early on that she “will always carry a bit of Montreal on the soles of her shoes,” and it shows. 

The Westmount resident drew on the memories of her own life to create her protagonist, Emilie, who begins the book as a little girl and ends it as a grandmother.

“I created her from my own memories, but she is herself,” explains Peretz, 68. “But for my first book, I was always told to write what I know.”

Many of Emilie’s experiences mirror Peretz’s own: the childhood in St. Henri, her mother’s death from tuberculosis when she was 13, and falling in love with a New York Jew and following him to the United States.  Peretz even kept the names of her family members true to life.  But she insists that, while writing, she didn’t know where the story would lead.

“I was surprised by where it took me,” she said.  “It almost told itself to me at times.”

The story is not a straightforward retelling of Emilie’s life.  It has multiple narrators, including her deceased parents, who look down on their daughter. They add to, and sometimes retell her stories from their own points of view. 

The fourth narrator is Emilie’s celestial guide, Carlos.  He helps her to discover the secret behind her lifelong recurring dreams, and leads to one of the book’s central themes: reincarnation. Emilie discovers that she has been reborn at least seven times, and carries the gift of remembering some of her past lives.

Many of Emilie’s experiences mirror Peretz’s own: the childhood in St. Henri, her mother’s death from tuberculosis when she was 13, and falling in love with a New York Jew and following him to the United States.

“I did not know that I would write about reincarnation when I started writing,” Peretz said. “But it’s something I believe in, and I put my own version of it in the book.”

Peretz herself knows a thing or two about reinvention. She has held several careers over her life: bilingual secretary, full-time wife and mother, French teacher, and translator.  Although she had always written short stories, she only wrote Une Petite Plume D’Ange when she was 66.

“I had always dreamed of writing a book,” she said.  “And when a friend of mine had to make a big change to her life, I promised her that I would take up a challenge myself, and keep writing for as long as she persisted.  Well, she’s still at it, and now I’m writing my second book!”

Peretz is still amazed that the first publisher she approached, Les Éditions GID, took her book right away.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” she said.

“At first I thought, ‘who am I to write about my life?’ My life has been ordinary. But then I realized that everybody has a story, and I wanted people to see a bit of their own story in mine.  I’m just a mother, a grandmother.  But I’m writing about life.”

Une Petite Plume D’Ange is available in bookstores now.

 

Organizations: Westmount, POM bakery

Geographic location: Montreal, New York, United States St. Henri

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