Herizons Review - Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré
Reviewed by: Deanna Radford
"But memory is a story the heart tells," writes Sarah Kathryn York, in the voice of protagonist Edouard Beaupré's mother, Florestine. This is an apropos sentiment with which to sum up the spirit of this novel, a fictionalized recreation of the life of a young Métis man who was born in Saskatchewan near the end of the 19th century.
In life, Beaupré was known as a "giant" who grew to be over eight feet tall. He worked as performer and strongman in the circus circuit across North America. Beaupré died at a young age of tuberculosis, and his family did not have the funds to transport his remains home. In death, Beaupré's embalmed body was circulated on display for roughly the first half of the 20th century in service to enterprises that included the circus, a museum and the Université de Montréal. This was unknown to his family members for many years.
Our point of entry to the story begins there, with a touch of the flesh in a clinical setting. A scientific researcher from Montreal, living well after Beaupré's death, is obsessed with his case. With Beaupré's remains, the researcher discovers the biological conditions leading to his anomalous height and proportions.
The novel depicts the lonely and antagonistic life Beaupré lived. When someone asks, "Were you born a giant?" his interior response is: "I was made one." The story imparts the burden of the body. It depicts the unspoken physical and slavish toll the circus business took on Beaupré's well-being, in spite of his desire to be needed and loved. The story illuminates a fascinating period of Canadian history as well as the difficult social relationship with difference that persists to this day.
York has written a well-researched, sensitive story that pays meaningful tribute to the life and death of the person who was Edouard Beaupré.