Monday, April 19, 2010

Novelist Ben Farmer on EVANGELINE and Acadian History

Louisiana book critic Chere Coen speaks with Evangeline author Ben Farmer for the Louisiana Book News Service: "Ben Farmer is excited. He's found newly acquired but little-known historic information, like an Indiana Jones discovering a lost tribe. He's fired up about his subject matter, ready to spread the tale to the world.

Farmer is a high school teacher who writes non- fiction books for Overlook Press. When his editor Peter Mayer approached him about writing the novelization of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Evangeline,"the colonial historian gladly gave a few chapters for consideration.

Mayer liked what he read and Farmer's debut novel, Evangeline, is now on shelves.

"The Acadians were a footnote all the way through college," Farmer said of his education. "It's (the Acadian settlement and deportation) largely forgotten. Historically speaking, I saw this as a tremendous opportunity."

The book faithfully follows Longfellow's poem but adds background material on both characters
Gabriel Lajeunesse and Evangeline Bellefontaine, two only children who fall in love and plan to marry, only to be separated by the English when they deported the Acadians from their homeland of Nova Scotia beginning in 1755.

The book also keeps the characters firmly in the 18th century, describing in great detail "a more accurate portrayal of Colonial America" as opposed to Longfellow's view that's more relative to his time, Farmer said. Longfellow published the poem in 1847.

"These were refugees without anything at all," Farmer explained. "They were really living in poor conditions. The casualty rate was extremely high."

What makes Farmer so excited about the Acadians and their history, however, is not just the injustice of what he calls "an early example of genocide." He sees the Acadians as the healthiest people in North America before le grand derangement, or expulsion, with good farmland, big families and a friendly relationship with their Indian neighbors, one of the reasons they were so desperate to get back to Canada.

"Acadians were anxious to have a life in Nova Scotia because it was better than most colonists," he said. He also sees Acadians as the precursor to Jeffersonian America, calling them the "early American ideal" with their family values, neutrality and desire for "sensible, ordinary" rights.

"Basically, the first North American people are the Acadians," Farmer said. "And it's such a staggering thing that happened."

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