Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book 129, Saint Pierre and Miquelon: "Rumrunners" by J.P. Andrieux

So I decided not to do Québec as a separate country, because they're not oppressed and they probably wouldn't become a nation of their own if they had a referendum. I do feel bad about this, though, since it was a special request that my friend Jean Francois made three years ago. But I did do the Québec-based Haitian author Dany Laferrière, so there's that.

The teensy-tiny twin islands of Saint Pierre et Miquelon do get an entry, however. They're a self-governing overseas collectivity of France - a colony in North America that no-one knows about! - and there is indeed a Kindle-friendly e-book about them/it, covering the sensational period of American Prohibition from 1919 to 1933: when the islands served as a vital port for the smuggling of alcohol from Europe and the Caribbean into the USA and Canada (yes, Canada did some Prohibition too, didja know that?).

But there're two problems at hand.

First, J.P. Andrieux is a terrible writer. Stupidly dull. Lays out the facts textbook-style, with zero delight in the potential of language to entertain, barely seizing any chances to revel in how interesting the details of his topic are. No lush descriptive background given of the town of Saint Pierre - just dry anecdote after anecdote of the smuggling. Megayawns.

Second - well, the subject really isn't that sensational. True, we've got some cool little stories about sailors who hide liquor in their water barrels, confounding their captains who searched the vessel high and low for the substance that was sousing all men on deck, and the big-name smugglers themselves - James McCoy (whose high-quality rum gave birth to the term "the real McCoy", the infamous gangster Al Capone, who gave away his straw hat to a shopkeeper who admired it, and Gertrude Light, one of the few women to sail the Rum Row, armed with a pistol to defend herself against ruffians who mistook her for a lady of negotiable affections.

However, once we get past 1933, we enter dull Canadian territory - there was still plenty of smuggling of booze and cigarettes from the islands to Newfoundland (which wasn't part of Canadian Confederacy until 1948), and Andrieux narrates the gradual crackdown on this by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with chapters focussing on 1991, 1992 and 1993 individually, dwelling on juries and ever-so-polite Mountie raids, where they'll apologise for making too much noise if they raid the wrong house (quite unlike US cops, who'll usually shoot your dog and then try to sue you if you go the press about it).

Anyway, there doesn't seem to be much smuggling anymore, not that I've been persuaded to care much one way or another. After all, I'm currently in Colombo, Sri Lanka, listening to tales of police harassment of gay people and the horrors of the 26 year-long civil war, which they're recovering from quite nicely, by the way, after it ended four years ago.

Will be reading more while on the go in Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy! Toodle-pip, my dears.

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Representative quote: On the day that Prohibition ended, the truckers who had been engaged in transporting the liquor shipments from the docks to the warehouses and vice versa organized a mock funeral parade from one of the liquor warehouses. They paraded throughout the community with a long line of trucks, with the American and French flags at half-mast in mourning, signifying that the great era was all over and tomorrow they would have no more work.

Next book: The Vinland Sagas, from Greenland.

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