A French-language tome by a hard-line Quebec separatist doesn’t seem like a typical candidate for a Canadian Jewish Book Award. But in June, Denis Vaugeois’s “Les Premiers Juifs d’Amérique” won the 2012 prize for history, crowning what the Montreal Gazette called the historian’s ”55-year quest” to rescue the story of Quebec’s pioneering Hart family ”from the dustbin of history.”
Now, Montreal publisher Baraka has released an English-language translation, “The First Jews of North America.” An exhaustive illustrated history of Quebec’s pioneering Hart family, the book has generated praise and some controversy; Vaugeois himself gained notoriety as the sovereignty hardliner who quit politics in 1985 “to protest the party’s decision to put independence on the back burner,” as the Gazette wrote. The Arty Semite caught up with Vaugeois in Montreal by email. His publisher translated responses from the French.
Michael Kaminer: In the course of researching your book, what surprised you the most about the Harts, or about Quebec at that time?