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Posted: June 6, 2021

A soft journey through hard history

Book Review

By Derryll White

Poulin, Jacques (1988).  Volkswagen Blues.

The first indication that this might be an interesting novel is the fact that it is translated from the French by Sheila Fischman.  Every work of hers I have read has been delightful.

Jacques Pouiin has constructed an elegy – of exploration, personal growth, love and the reality of what the land mass of America is not.  Moving quietly through the landscape in an old Volkswagen bus, the author brings in the journeys and conquests of the first explorers of this to then unknown land mass.  He quietly laments the lives of the first peoples who came in contact with these explorers, chronicling their losses.

Jack, the central character, moves ahead in his quest to know things, find his brother and figure himself out.  There are difficulties, losses and obstacles, but he moves forward from Gaspé to San Francisco, from self-doubt to a growing knowledge of all that he is.  This is a story that praises devotion, a sensitivity to self and others, and a thirst for knowledge.

Jacques Poulin takes the reader on a soft journey through hard history, always letting the story find a way through race, hatred, gender issues to a warm sunny place in a natural world.  Like Richard M. Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ or Richard Bach’s ‘Johnathan Livingston Seagull’, the author finds great personal value in writing.  We are each the story.


Excerpts from the novel:

DREAMING – “Dreams are like islands,” she murmured.  “You’re all alone when you dream, and that’s how it has to be.”

AMERICA – “So what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, it’s just me.  It’s my brother….  It’s in my head.”  With a gesture of impotence, he added, “It’s America.  You start to read the history of America and there’s violence everywhere.  It’s as if America was built on violence.”

BOOKS – “You shouldn’t judge books one by one.  I mean, you mustn’t see them as independent objects.  A book is never complete in itself; to understand it you must put it in relation to other books, not just books by the same author, but also books written by other people.  What we think is a book most of the time is only part of another, vaster book that a number of authors have collaborated on without knowing it.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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