The Success Stories

Three questions to Éric Dupont

Éric Dupont - photo Sarah Scott, courtoisie

Meet the author of the 2013 Quebec Librarians' Prize, "La Fiancée américaine" ("The American Bride"), who wrote part of his novel during his artist's residency at Villa Waldberta.

Your novel “La Fiancée américaine” covers several generations in several countries. Did you travel a lot yourself for writing this novel?

You can definitely say that. I actually do travel a lot. Authors are often told that they should solely write about things they know. In this regard, "La Fiancée américaine" combines in one story several places where I have lived - Rivière-du-Loup, Toronto or Berlin - with others I visited - Rome or New York. I even made a detour via Kaliningrad, a Russian city built upon the smoking ruins of Königsberg, just  to know what I was up to. With all the weirdness, hassles and complications of the Russian province, this journey is engraved in my memory. I went there alone by the way, since nobody would have joined me. Nevertheless, it is an amazing place. The architecture of the city is rather ordinary, very Sovietic in its style with a sometimes brutal ugliness, but nature, mainly the Curanian Spit, is outstandingly beautiful. This is where the idea of the Königsberg zebra came to my mind, which prooves that I did not travel for nothing. There are zebras – and giraffes – at the same spot in Kaliningrad where the zoo of Königsberg stood. Besides, it is very ironic to see that the city of Kaliningrad markets itself as a “German” tourism destination towards Russians. With the exception of some dilapidated mansions in the coastal villages and a nuclear power plant built by Siemens, the place is no longer anything German.

Is there something – a person, a tradition, a place… in your family’s past that inspired your novel? Do brunches, which are so important in your novel, have the same meaning for you?

The part of the book which plays in Rivière-du-Loup has been inspired by the childhood memories of my mother and was enriched by stories I heard over the course of time. The Easter breakfast was extremely important in the Dupont family. This meal took place a few hours after the harvest of the Easter water, a tradition carried on by one of my uncles. The restaurants serving  breakfast in my region  were always crowded. We always ate copiously before noon. The first thing I observed when arriving in Europe at the age of sixteen was how casually “Frühstück” was considered. And I still had not been to Italy or France where the idea of eating a real meal before noon was, until recently,  a real heresy. Thus, the idea of going to a restaurant for breakfast was strange to the Austrians in the 1980’s. I guess that these things have changed a little bit. Anyway their generous portions at noon do not leave much space for other meals. This by the way is the great drama of Madeleine Lamontagne, whose flourishing American company,  will never succeed on European markets. Her offer is four hours early. Bad calculation. Maybe she should put sausages on her menu? Pumpernickel? Or this fresh cheese Austrians call “Topfen”? But Madeleine is not precisely known for her flexibility.

Was your novel already well on its way when you stayed at Villa Waldberta, did you know where you were headed with it? Or did this stay have you take an unexpected road? In one word, how did Villa Wadberta influence you?

I started writing before I even had unpacked at the Villa. I already had some pages and a plan, written in Austria where I had already worked on "La Fiancée". Only at the end of my Bavarian stay did I realize I could use Villa Waldberta in my novel. I do not remember anymore how I had this idea, especially so because, since the very beginnings, I had always seen the story to be set in the Berlin-Königsberg ax. But sometimes you need to soften the constraints you subject yourself to. In my mind, Bavaria and Königsberg were difficult to mix. This was a prejudice that vanished very quickly when I realized that everyone in Bavaria has a mother-in-law, a neighbour, a gardener or a piano tuner who was born in East Prussia or who is a descendant of one of this lost province’s survivors. The Königsberg zebras still run around in the memory of many Bavarians. Finally, I do not think that I would have ended up writing this novel without this stay at Villa Waldberta. Maybe I would have ended it, but the result would not have been the same.