USEREVIEW 133 (Capsule): Hold Your Tongue
Hold Your Tongue (NeWest Press, 2023)
ISBN 978-1-77439-071-9 | 270 pp | $22.95 CAD/ $17.95 USD | BUY Here
Matthew Tétreault’s Hold Your Tongue is a transporting novel. Deftly woven threads span decades within a single family, inviting readers to confront themes of generational trauma, language and culture.
Told from the perspective of Richard — a young man caught between rural life in southeastern Manitoba and the prospect of opportunity in Winnipeg — Tétreault centres the action on a personal loss as the family faces the imminent death of their patriarch, Alfred (Richard’s great-uncle). As Richard grapples with grief, he relives key moments with both Alfred and his own father, Émile.
Hold Your Tongue illuminates both what has changed and what has remained stubbornly the same for this Métis and Francophone family: persecution, religion, colonialism and language all colour aspects of Alfred’s memories from decades prior, Émile’s stories of childhood and young adulthood (often told to Richard by Alfred) and Richard’s current reality. Tétreault conveys much of Hold Your Tongue’s dialogue in different registers of French, not only making the narrative immersive, but also highlighting how critical language is to culture. (Michif is also incorporated in the text to a lesser extent, and Tétreault highlights the colonial erasure of culture through language suppression for both Francophone and Métis people.) As Richard journeys through his present geography, memories arise organically, emphasizing the way place shapes cultural (and familial) memory.
Hold You Tongue is a debut novel for Tétreault, and shows his clear capability for teasing out nuanced stories with fully realized characters.
This excerpt is from Chapter 14, ‘A Second Story Apartment Suite in Saint-Boniface’ (p.109). I’ve selected it because this flashback captures the tension within Richard as he strives to understand himself and his place within his family’s unique cultural and historical context. (This passage occurs just after Richard’s girlfriend casually mentions that he is Métis to a group of friends.)
Truth was, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a story to share. Only tattered bits of truth and rumours. Like Dad’s army photos. Pieces without a story … Alfred had a few stories, but I didn’t know what made them Métis. Where was that line between the French and Métis who’d grown up together, neighbours, who’d married each other, over the years, families intertwining like threads in a fucking sash? I didn’t want to start figuring it out in front of some randos in a second- story apartment suite in Saint-Boniface.