When 12-year-old Eustache Bréman, the unworldly and wide-eyed narrator of Camille Bouchard’s Hunting for the Mississippi, boards a ship bound for Louisiana, he’s filled with hope. The year is 1684, and he’s been promised that the New World is one of abundance. Still grieving the death of his father and brother, Eustache is eager to leave behind his hardscrabble existence in France and begin a new life with his mother and the object of his affection, Marie-Élisabeth. But the book’s hopeful tone is short-lived, as Eustache and the others in the expedition’s fleet quickly realize that the New World is also home to unbearable tragedy and uncertainty.
French-language Governor General’s Literary Award–winning author Bouchard is a master storyteller, seamlessly weaving together fact and fiction as he brings readers along on Eustache’s ill-fated voyage with French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Complex, intricately drawn characters and Bouchard’s matter-of-fact prose (adeptly translated by Peter McCambridge) dominate the book. Each quick-paced chapter reveals a new physical or emotional obstacle, which force Eustache to age beyond his years. This is, above all, a novel about powerlessness and frailty in the wake of trauma. But there are also gentler, universal themes – young love and a thirst for adventure among them.
The book ends with historical notes that guide readers to a better understanding of the context in which this gripping novel is set. Brimming with human emotion, Hunting for the Mississippi is a sombre yet captivating look at a grim period of early North American history.