Interview with Thomas Simard on Jean Desjardins
Welcome Tom Simard.
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P: The stray dogs in the Ozinda River legend have their spirits renewed, presumably because they feel like they averted a disaster for the ancient Kingdom. Are JD and Marie meant to be saviors in the way that Enoch and Elijah saved the Ardala?
TS: I can see how they might be viewed in that way.
P: The dogs are given old Biblical names. Please explain the significance of this for our audience?
TS: Enoch and Elijah are Old Testament characters. In Genesis we read, “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” As for Elijah, the Bible says he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Many Christians believe Enoch and Elijah are the two prophets mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation who will herald the End of Days.
In the Bible we read of Noah’s flood. The rainbow was the sign given that it would never be destroyed in a similar way. To quote Robert Frost, “Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.”
P: Was it your primary goal to write an eschatological novel?
TS: My primary goal was to write a novel, which happened to develop in different directions.
P: While in a Catholic cemetery, why does Marie “glance over the wall into the Jewish cemetery?” What are you trying to say about Christian and Jewish faith?
TS: The cemetery in Nouvelle is primarily Orthodox. Marie lights a candle in the Catholic cemetery to remember those whom time has forgotten. I imagine she’s glancing over to the Jewish cemetery for the same reason.
P: Is François Régimbal meant to be an antichrist figure?
TS: That’s one way of looking at him. As for Jean’s landlord, Sébastien Brunel, he shares some remarkably similar traits with the Devil in Baltic folklore.
P: What is meant by “no one entertained the thought that perhaps something had drastically changed and that the days of enjoying God’s benevolence had passed?”
TS: God’s mercy has prevented the world from being destroyed. No one dreamed the end of the world would actually come.
P: Who recognizes that the world will be destroyed?
TS: For certain Jean and Marie do.
P: Is your 1st person narrator going through his own personal eschatological nightmare? (“Who knows what will remain of our lives when we are gone? I am getting old,…”)
TS: Nightmare is a bit strong. Let’s say he’s trying to come to terms with his own mortality.
P: Why are Boulard’s theories undermined (eg “Boulard’s theories cannot be justified.”)? How can Régimbal use them to hold on to power?
TS: Boulard has put aside previous scholarship and ignored whatever contradicts his worldview.
The two men use each other. By supporting Régimbal, Boulard makes sure his ideas will be taken seriously. Régimbal takes advantage not only of Boulard’s popularity but his theories. What better appeal is there to a French nationalistic sentiment than the claim that the the ancient cities were of French and not of Ardala origin and that the latter appeared only at the time of the great fires?
P: A pair of stray dogs, having fled, sensed what was happening and began howling, and at that moment, the floodgates of heaven were opened, extinguishing the fire:
Do the dogs cause the floodgates to open? Since correlation does not imply causality, the reader will not know for certain if the events are related. Take, for instance, the story of the boy with the stick. One day a boy hits an electric pole with a stick and, at that precise moment, the entire city is plunged into darkness, a massive blackout. It was simply a coincidence, but the boy thinks he caused the outage. Was the flood a coincidence?
TS: No, the dogs caused the floodgates to open.
P: And what sound do you mean when you say “not everyone recognized the sound?” The sound of the howling from the legend?
TS: The sound of Enoch and Elijah after they descended from the Sacred Wall.
P: Is the meditative tone of the final section meant to represent the end of time?
TS: Yes. The end times are upon us. Jean and Marie no longer wait for the morrow. Their lives flash before their eyes. The snow is not going to stop.
P: I find it difficult to get from ‘it’s snowing outside’ to ‘it’s the end of the world.’ Can I get your comments on this?
TS: Actually, Marie says, “There’s to be no end to the snow.” It’s one of many clues both in the final chapter and throughout the novel that this is where things are heading. However, I think it can be argued that not knowing when the end comes is pretty much the way it is all the days of the life of our vanity – changing the novel’s epigraph from Ecclesiastes ever so slightly.
P: Tell me about the significance of the bones dug up by the dogs.
TS: The combination of dogs and dead bodies in the Old Testament does not, to put it mildly, have the best of associations.
It’s definitely not the dry bones of Ezekiel. One might even see it as an anti-resurrection – Boulard rises from the grave. I’ve always loved the old rabbinic adage that says the scripture has seventy faces.
P: Is the story meant to be solely the end times for the Ardala, or is it meant as a global event?
TS: When you asked me earlier whether the tone of the last section was a reflection of the end of time I said yes. I actually had the idea of answering yes and no. The problem is that all the scenarios I know of the end times (Judeo-Christian ones) are not really the end but rather the beginning of something else. Is it meant to be Sodom & Gomorrah (a local destruction that Lot’s daughters presumably thought to be global) or Noah’s flood? I wonder if it matters seeing that from the very start of the novel we encounter individuals whose last days have come.
P: Tell me about the nationalism of the government. Because of geopolitics, the Kingdom is susceptible to the whims of foreign powers. What do the Ardala want? Protection of their language and culture within the Kingdom? Do they embrace the anti foreign interference stance of the government?
TS: The Ardala don’t want anything more than they’ve always wanted and had – their language and culture.
P: What is currently the proportion of French speakers in the Kingdom?
TS: Ninety-one percent.
P: I am still struggling with the Ozinda River legend. The dogs are cast as saviors, yet the biblical Elijah and Enoch are not saviors–they are, some say, a sign that portends the future tribulation period. These are two very different roles.
TS: Imagine the dogs in the legend like the Psalmist who cried out to the Lord and his voice was heard. Throughout the Bible we repeatedly read of people calling on the Lord and the miraculous being brought about.
Although the book is heavily indebted to Christian thought on the end times, the Ardala aren’t Christians, and they don’t deem the afterlife of any importance. What matters to them is not what happens when you die but rather what you do while living. This is similar not only to Jewish thought as I understand it but to the Cynics who thought metaphysics was a hopeless exercise and that what was important was living a good life.
P: What ‘magic realism’ novels most directly influenced Jean Desjardins?
TS: None come to mind. One Hundred Years of Solitude and The House of the Spirits are favorites.
P: What novels most influenced Jean Desjardins?”
TS: I think the Bible as well as various books in the social sciences had a greater influence.
Thank you to Tom for taking time out of his schedule to answer some questions on his book.