René Lévesque was born in 1922 in Campbellton, New Brunswick but raised on the Francophone Gaspé peninsula. He is known as the spiritual father of sovereigntism: Lévesque was the first Quebec leader since confederation to attempt political independence for his province – coming close with the famed 1980 referendum that led to a 60/40 split in favour of national unity. As the founder and leader of the Parti Quebecois, Lévesque oversaw many important changes that have contributed to Quebec’s remarkable cultural identity, in particular the controversial language law known simply as Bill 101, which has been integral in maintaining the strength of the
French language in Quebec. Lévesque was a heavy smoker – he once claimed to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day – and died of a heart attack in 1987. It is reported that over 100 000 Quebeckers attended his funeral and procession.
With his Giller-shortlisted novel, A Secret Between Us (La Kermesse), Daniel Poliquin is now one of the few Canadian novelists well known in both languages. He’s also a respected political essayist and worked for years as a simultaneous translator in the House of Commons, which gave him long exposure to political debate in the country. Unlike others who have written about René Lévesque, Poliquin is neither a true believer nor an opponent. And while not a follower of Lévesque’s idea for an independent Quebec, he is a great admirer of the man. He brings a fresh interpretation of Lévesque’s life and legacy to the page.