Je me souviens de quoi?

A fresh take on the beautiful province

It’s a very good time to read Jocelyn Létourneau’s extended essay on Quebec history. For one thing, last year was a year of anniversaries: fifty years since the October Crisis, forty years since the 1980 referendum, twenty-five years since the 1995 referendum. Reflections on these existential events stimulated a stream of articles, books, and documentaries that were coloured by regret and recrimination, that opened old wounds, and that aired old grievances. But La condition québécoise presents readers with a more challenging interpretation of events. Consider its subtitle alone, for the word “dépayser” means two things: to give a change of scenery and to disorient or make ill at ease.

Since 1978, Quebec licence plates have been adorned with the phrase “Je me souviens” (I remember), and there have been many discussions about what, in fact, Quebecers are being asked to recall. Decades of oppression? An...