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University Press to Re-Issue Classic Franco-American Novel

April 2nd, 2003

Media contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571 Orono

On Thursday, April 17, the University of Maine Press will officially launch the republication of the long-out-of-print Franco-American classic novel, Papa Martel, by Lewiston author Gérard Robichaud. In honor of this event, the University of Maine English Department, the Franco-American Centre, the Franco-American Studies Program, and the UMaine Press will co-host a book-signing reception and readings by Robichaud, now 94, and two other Maine Franco-American writers. Rhea Coté Robbins, of Brewer, author of Wednesday’s Child, and Waterville native Grégoire Chabot, author of Jacques Cartier Discovers America, will read from their works. The book signing reception will be held at 4 p.m. followed by the readings and discussion with the authors from 4:30-6:00, at the Franco-American Centre in the Crossland Hall on the University of Maine campus. The new edition of Papa Martel will be on sale at the event, which is free and open to the public.

Papa Martel, which was originally published by Doubleday in 1961,is the loosely autobiographical story of a Franco-American family, led by Louis Martel. The story is related through the coming of age of his nine children, from 1919 to 1937, with flashbacks to the youthful premarital years of Louis and his future wife Cecile. On a second level, the novel draws out the social context of this distinct chapter in the four-hundred-year Francophone presence in North America. The story is set in Groveton, Maine, an unabashedly Franco and Catholic town loosely based on Lewiston, Maine, the town of Robichaud’s boyhood. Papa Martel, a contract carpenter who travels throughout Maine for work, fills his children with stories of Acadie, their ancestral homeland, in a sense binding his family to the much larger “family” of French in North America.

“It is the story of a strong and loving family,” Robichaud says of his novel. “In accents tender and light-hearted, it speaks of births, marriages and deaths, of affection and love and mutual support given without question, of mutual respect and in-family customs and traditions that last, of a medieval faith that endures to this day in spite of it all.”

Robichaud, whose father was also a contract carpenter, was born in 1908 and left his home in Lewiston at the age of 12, two years after his mother died, to study in a preparatory school in Montreal with the intention of becoming a priest. Like a character in his book, he left the seminary and worked for a short time at a bank in Connecticut before being drawn to New York City. He did not learn English until he was nearly twenty. In 1941, Robichaud enlisted in the Army and served in the Pacific until 1945. He entertained his fellow soldiers with stories of his life in Lewiston. He arrived back in New York on VJ-Day and met his future wife, Elizabeth, that very night. He enrolled in a writing program at Columbia University in 1951 and, at the urging of his wife, began chronicling the family stories he had shared with her and his Army buddies. Those stories formed the basis for Papa Martel.

Recently, the Baxter Society of Portland included Papa Martel on its list of 100 books that reveal the history of Maine and the life of its people. The book has been a favorite in university classes and town library discussions.

“That Papa Martel manages after all these years to home in under our highly developed radar and still touch us suggests a sustaining power beyond the surface appeal of the family’s winning ways,” says Jim Bishop, a lecturer in English at UMaine, who wrote the introduction to the new edition.

Robichaud, who received an honorary degree from UMaine in 1991, has published one other novel, Apple of His Eye, and continues to work on a novel about his war years in the South Pacific.

Since seating will be limited, those who plan to attend the April 17 event are encouraged to contact Yvon Labbe at the Franco-American Centre, 581-3764 or labbe@maine.edu, or Jim Bishop, 581-3618 or Jim_Bishop@umit.maine.edu.

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Franco American Studies
5742 Little Hall, Room 213
Orono, Maine 04469-5742
Phone: (207) 581-3791 | Fax: (207) 581- 1832
E-mail: francostudies@maine.edu
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1865