The Song of Roland

Song of Roland cover

I love Paul. I love the black-and-white, curvy casual style in which his stories are illustrated. I would learn to read French if I were to learn that the Paul stories would no longer be translated into English. I've read Rabaliati's other semi-autobiographical stories, and have enjoyed following Paul's life in Canada from his summer job as a camp counselor to moving into his first place with his fiance in the city to his becoming a father. Rabagliati adds a new dimension to Paul's story by focusing on his in-laws, with emphasis on his wife's father, Roland.

The story opens with Paul and family gathering with his wife's two sisters and their families at his parents-in-law's home, and Rabagliati captures little truths in this reunion that will bring smiles to readers as they identify with the experience. There's the burst of joy and excitement at seeing everyone followed by an evening of first finding a place to sleep and then attempting to sleep through the night in a basement filled with adults and children.

As I read this opening and felt it ring true to my own experience, I reveled in the connection I felt to this story and to its author. Thus engaged in the story, I read on, not expecting to repeatedly experience such a deep connection. Any reader whose watched a loved one grow old and weak with age and disease is likely to experience a similar connection.

Paul's father-in-law Roland is diagnosed with prostate cancer, prompting a move from that home where the family gathered early in the book to an apartment in the city. Paul joins Roland for a walk (and a secret, forbidden cigarette), and is treated to a brief biography of his father-in-law, from his youth to his retirement and terminal diagnosis. Eventually, Roland's wife is struggling to take care of him by herself and the family decides to move him to hospice. Roland has company from the family every day, but his condition deteriorates and he gradually becomes less able to communicate with them. Inevitably, Roland dies.

I was reminded of my grandfather's final months in hospice, and I appreciate the realism with which Rabagliati infuses his story--from the sad moments to the unexpectedly hilarious ones so needed while families grieve the loss of one who has yet to die. I recommend this story to anyone (whether they've read any previous Paul stories or not) and I believe that it has the power to help those grieving similar losses.

I suppose I'm resorting to pleading here, but take an hour or so to read and enjoy this book, and then tell your friends about it. Paul and Rabagliati ought to be at least as well known as the Charlies Brown and Schultz, and better loved.

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