Willa Cather’s novel of seventeenth-century Quebec is a luminous evocation of North American origins, and of the men and women who struggled to adapt to a new world even as they clung to the artifacts and manners of one they left behind.
In 1697, Quebec is an island of French civilization perched on a bare gray rock amid a wilderness of trackless forests. For many of its settlers, Quebec is a place of exile, so remote that an entire winter passes without a word from home. But to twelve-year-old Cécile Auclair, the rock is home, where even the formidable Governor Frontenac entertains children in his palace and beavers lie beside the lambs in a Christmas creche. As Cather follows this devout and resourceful child over the course of a year, she re-creates the continent as it must have appeared to its first European inhabitants. And she gives us a spellbinding work of historical fiction in which great events occur first as rumors and then as legends—and in which even the most intimate domestic scenes are suffused with a sense of wonder.