Finished April 21
Wonder by Dominique Fortier, translated by Sheila Fischman
This gem of a novel has three sections. The main characters in the first two sections are real historical figures, but Fortier has given them different experiences beyond their real lives.
The first is set in the early twentieth century in Martinique and begins just a few days before the devastating eruption of Mount Pelée. The entire city of Saint Pierre was destroyed and only one man survived. It is this man, known here by the name of Baptiste Cyparis. Like the real man, Cyparis is approached by a representative of Barnum & Bailey's circus and tours with them as one of the sideshow attractions. Here, Cyparis is known as The Man Who Lived Through Doomsday, and he befriends a young boy looking after some of the animals, and in turn begins a relationship with the boy's mother. This section gives a feel for both the loneliness and notoriety of the circus people, and the hierarchy within their community.
The second is set in a wider section of time during the same era. In England, we see the development from childhood of the mathematician Edward Love, a man famous for using math to explain earth's inner workings. Edward falls in love with a woman who is also one fascinated by earth and it's inner workings, but for her, they translate into music. Their natural affinity leads them to explore further and bring each other epiphanies as their own insights lead to breakthroughs for the other. The travel to Italy and visit the newly excavated ruins of Pompeii, some of the happiest days of their lives. The real Edward Love discovered Love numbers which are used to measure the elastic response of the Earth to the influence of tides, and Love waves which are still used to study the Earth's crust and earthquakes.
The third section of the book is set in Montreal, mostly on Mont Royal itself. Rose is a young woman who walks dogs every day, taking them up the path to the summit, near the cemetery. Through a series of gradual events she comes to know a young man who works in the cemetery, and the two of them grow close.
This is a novel of language, of ideas, of the subtle interactions between people. The original French edition was a finalist for the Prix littéraire des collégiens.