Book Review: Father, Unknown by Francois Mai
By Rita Button
Professor Mai is a doctor, a professor, a writer of medical articles, and now, also a novelist! His first novel, Father, Unknown, published in 2017 by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., London, was motivated by a piece of personal history in his family in when he discovered a “father, unknown” in his own ancestry.
Beginning in 1759 mostly in Vimy, France, Mai creates a family of peasants at the mercy of the landholder whose main concern is to collect the rent from those who work the land. The daughter who keeps the household for her father and brothers bears an illegitimate child. Her love for the child’s father prevents her from following any of her family’s or the church’s advice—mostly to give the child up for adoption— and she raises her son to be a fine, moral man.
Mai creates an epic stage on which to dramatize the son’s life, and uses a medical clue regarding the son’s ancestry. The plot moves from France to Canada, returning to France toward the end of the novel. Politics, religion, and social mores are seen through various experiences showing that the Professor Mai understands initial responses to taking the road less travelled. He shows also that the “good old days” should not be seen through rose-coloured glasses, and uses historical figures that interact with fictional characters to expose the way the world was—and, also, how parts of it are still the same.
The French Revolution, including the likes of Robespierre, the role of the Roman Catholic Church in France and New France, the differences in how the wealthy and powerful were treated in the courts, the need for family, and the desire to seek the truth and love are woven in the story of one family and its far-reaching influences—unintended, in some ways. My favourite character is Aunt Catherine who is able to speak her mind in spite of the fact that her truth and vision of the world is heresy to many.
If you enjoy reading about human interactions in a different time period, about love and squalor, and the unfairness of things along with the differences in medical knowledge and the risks some took to further the knowledge, this novel is for you. It can be borrowed from the new James Bay Branch of the library—Dr. Mai donated two books--or purchased from Martin Mai--$30.00 hardcover and $20.00 softcover—who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.