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Pickle Me This

November 23, 2010

The Empire Within takes the QWF First Book Prize

Congratulations to Sean Mills for winning the Quebec Writers’ Federation First Book Prize for The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal (and thanks to McGill-Queens University Press for livetweeting the QWF Awards— next best thing to being there). Mills’ book was one of the biggest surprises of the 25 books I read in the running for the award– I had no connection at all to the subject matter, or the author, and I was initially intimidated by it being an academic book, am wary of theoretical constructs and non-fiction certainly isn’t my first bookish love.

But my lack of connection to the subject matter meant that the book was altogether absorbing– how could I ever have thought I knew anything about Quebec in the ‘sixties when my understanding of its history began and ended with the October Crisis? How could I ever have had an opinion on French/English relations in Quebec and Canada having never understood the disparity that had existed between the French and English up until the mid-twentieth century? Mills deftly weaves civil rights, women’s rights and French language/cultural rights together, and frames his ideas in post-colonial theory which (get this, it’s unbelievable) actually enhances our understanding of the subject matter rather than needlessly obscuring it for reasons of academic discourse. He also makes illuminating connections between activism in Montreal, and better-known movements in Paris, post-colonial Africa, and in the United States, complicated by the fact that the Quebec French were colonizers as well as colonized.

I learned so much from this book, and so enjoyed reading it, and vividly remember the sunny afternoon in which I finished it, on the second last day of July… Unlikely summer reading, I know, but the bookish life is full of surprises. Anyway, well done to Sean Mills and all the other prize winners, and many thanks to the QWF for asking me to be a juror.

(Click here for a free podcast of Sean Mills’ walking tour of 1960s’ activist Montreal).

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