A note from Kenneth Radu, with thanks
On Friday afternoon, Gaston le facteur, wearing a mask, knocked on my door to deliver a book I had ordered directly from the publisher.
Knowing what it was, I stopped dusting my bibelots, brewed a pot of tea, gathered a supply of peanut butter cookies I had baked that very morning, and sat down with The Girl from Dream City.
Therein, a woman of sophistication, wit and humanity reveals her personal story, love of literature and the creation of a vibrant literary life in Montreal. Written in clear, elegant prose, Linda Leith’s memoir fascinates, not only because of the complexities of her experiences, but also because of the extraordinary economy with which she depicts startling, often shocking episodes. Perhaps distance and recollection create a kind of Buddhist calm, or perhaps stylistic restraint sharpened with humour is ultimately more emotionally powerful than excess and straining after effects.
I read this remarkable book in one sitting, not annoyed or overwhelmed, but convinced and often delighted by details. In addition to her demanding, unstable father and peripatetic family, we learn about the literary influences that shaped Leith’s thinking: Benjamin Constant, Madame de Staël, Samuel Becket, Mavis Gallant, et al. Her love for a Hungarian refugee leads to happy poverty in London in pursuit of their respective studies, married life with children in Montreal, the mind-wracking conflict between family demands and her need to write, harder for a woman of the time than a man, and ultimately her books and the founding of the great literary festival, Blue Met/Metropolis Bleu, among other cultural achievements.
Yes, Linda Leith’s dreams in a dream city have been realized. An exceptional life and a wonderful read.
Kenneth Radu has published fiction, non-fiction and poetry. A two-time recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation award for English-language fiction, his latest book, Net Worth, is published by DC Books Canada. He has recently completed the manuscript of a new collection of linked stories tentatively scheduled for publication in 2022.