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Volkswagen Blues: 08/15/17
Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin is a Quebecois road trip about a man in search for his long lost brother. His companion for this journey is Le Grande Sauterelle (Grasshopper girl, often just referred to as "The Girl"), and her black kitten. Their vehicle is an old, second hand Volkswagen bus that has been rebuilt but in a rather matter of fact way and one that will slow the rusting but won't prevent it.
The narrator, a man who calls himself Jack, brings to mind Jack Kerouac and On the Road. It's also fairly obvious that this is a roman à clef — made poetic for the sake of narrative. But there are photographs at the end that give a sense of the story behind the novel.
As the narrative was first written in 1984, one is also reminded of Blue Highways. But it's not Jack who is on the road to experience the narratives of other marginalized people. That is the Girl's quest. As the book progresses, she reveals the details of her life and her feeling of being out of place, being half Indian but not being a real Indian so that her parents (Indian mother, white father) could continue to live on the reservation near her family. But not white enough to buy a home beyond a trailer. (I'm using Indian rather than Native American or First Nation, as it is the term used by the author).
Her father we learn supported the family as a truck driver and later, she accompanied him. She learned how to drive in his big rig and has learned the history of the highway as it cuts through once native lands just as the settlers, governments, and armies have done.
Volkswagen Blues ends up embodying a variety of different classic road narrative stories. There is the white man finding himself as he finds his family (by far the most ubiquitous of North American road narratives). Then there is the traveling while ____________, in this case traveling while half Indian across lands that record the crimes against other Indian groups. Her story is like In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III but from a Canadian point of view. Then there is the autokind vs mankind, the traveling at the car's whim, always knowing that this day, this mile, could be its last.
For my road narrative project, I've saved numerous quotes and passages which I will be sharing on Tumblr. I'm behind on my note transcription, so this review will be posted long before I get to analyzing the book in further detail.
Comment #1: Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 22:27:53
I'm so glad you liked this one! One of my fave road trip novels, for sure.
Comment #2: Sunday, August 27, 2017 at 16:02:00
I want to re-read it. It was so good.