Volkswagen Blues

Introduction

Volkswagen Blues is a novel by French-Canadian writer Jacques Poulin. Volkswagen Blues was published in French in 1984; it was translated into English by Sheila Fischman and published by McClelland & Stewart in 1988 and subsequently re-issued by Cormorant Books in 2002. Volkswagen Blues was nominated for the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction at the 1984 Governor General's Awards, and was one of the selected novels in the 2005 edition of Canada Reads, where it was championed by author and former National Librarian of Canada, Roch Carrier.

Volkswagen Blues is a road novel, in the tradition of Jack Kerouac, about a writer who has adopted the pen-name Jack Waterman (and, as the story begins, is experiencing a bout of writer's block), which follows his search for his long-lost, rambling brother, Théo. Early in the narrative, Jack picks up a hitchhiker, a young Métis woman, nicknamed "La Grande Sauterelle" (because of her long, grasshopper-like legs), as a travel companion and her cat, Chop Suey.

Together in Jack's Volkswagen Minibus, they embark on a journey from Gaspé to San Francisco, passing through Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and the American West on their way, exploring the history of European contact with the native people of the Americas. While on the road, they discuss language, literature, American expansion, the Oregon Trail, etc., and their trip becomes a metaphor for the history of the French exploration of North America. At the same time, La Grande Sauterelle, who is struggling with her own identity, presents another version of American history, as recounted by the natives, where "discovery" is viewed as "invasion." Throughout the novel a number of interesting and entertaining characters appear, including writers Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

All in all, Jack's journey through an America that scholar Paul Socken describes as a "lost paradise" (see below) is one of disillusionment and self-discovery that allows him to break through the impasse he had met in his writing.


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