Review

Evangeline

by Ben Farmer

Evangeline Bellefontaine is a pretty, proud, accomplished
daughter of the elderly Benedict, who dotes on her. Despite her
mother’s death shortly after her birth, she has lacked
neither love nor educational opportunities. Growing up amidst a
close-knit community in Acadia (what is now known as Nova Scotia),
she has learned to read and speak English as well as her native
French. Along with most of her countrymen, she is clear-eyed and
sensible about living smack in the center of frequent skirmishes
between the French and British, which have been going on for
generations. They have kept their land by remaining neutral, and
there is no reason to think that this batch of Redcoats will be any
more difficult to handle than the last. Besides, she has her
upcoming wedding to Gabriel Lajeunesse to think about. As a
concession to the unrest, they will be married outside in the
forest at a small ceremony officiated by their old family friend,
Father Felician Abadie.

Yet they are sadly mistaken, and the British this time are
serious about occupying their lands --- so serious that the
villagers are tricked into town and taken prisoner. Gabriel’s
father’s loud public protests against the English make him
and his son targets, and soon Evangeline suffers the heartache of
seeing her beloved Gabriel and his malcontent father rowed out to a
waiting ship. Over the next few days hundreds of locals follow,
stowed below deck on the crowded ships until they sail. The
descriptions of the makeshift shelters on the shore, replete with
trunks of precious items left behind, are among the most poignant
in the book.

Benedict dies soon, held captive in the church at the fort, and
leaves Evangeline in the care of Father Felician, who perhaps
doesn’t know what he’s in for. Evangeline is nothing if
not determined and faithful to the memory of Gabriel. It takes her
13 years, and the remainder of the book is the tale of how she
makes her way south in pre-Civil War America, accompanied by
Felician and Bernard Arseneau, a trapper. We learn about
Evangeline’s years working in various hospitals, as well as
the Louisiana Bayou where Gabriel has landed. Unfortunately, he is
not quite as steadfast as Evangeline, and she has the sense to
suspect after so many years that he might not be. Yet their
eventual reunion is satisfyingly dramatic. Along the way we learn
quite a bit about trapping and river travel. Debut novelist Ben
Farmer laces the story with information about those times past,
employing words strange to our ears, like sabot, berserker and
animadvert.

EVANGELINE was inspired by a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
and snippets from this epic verse introduce each chapter. Journey
stories are deeply ingrained in our psyche, as Joseph Campbell
reminded us. Longfellow recognized this in Evangeline’s story
and immortalized it in poem form. Now Farmer has reinvested this
classic adventure tale with plenty of historical detail and
character traits that will surely bring it alive for many new
readers.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on February 24, 2011

Evangeline
by Ben Farmer

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1590200438
  • ISBN-13: 9781590200438