"Growing up, I often wished I lived in Mile End," writes Sigal Samuel of the iconic Montreal neighbourhood that provides the setting for her first novel, The Mystics of Mile End. But part of coming-of-age is also realizing that the places we mythologize have their own fictions of their own, and that there is no ideal setting in which to live the perfect life—except maybe Brooklyn.
Mythologized places are potent settings for literature, however. In this piece, Samuel writes about her own changing relationship with Mile End, which is itself in flux, and about how the neighbourhood is earning a place in the contemporary literary canon.
If you’ve spent time in Montreal (and even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard about Mile End. This diverse neighborhood is home to hipsters and Hasidic Jews. It’s also a great litmus test for how you feel about different cultures—religious and secular, academic and artsy—at any given moment.
Growing up, I often wished I lived in Mile End. Instead I inhabited Cote-Saint-Luc, a suburb so insularly Jewish that we nicknamed it Cote-Saint-Jew. I wanted to be a Mile Ender because that place, with its cheap rent and charming cafés, had a reputation as an artist hub (Arcade Fire, anyone?). It was a mirror for myself as …
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The Mystics of Mile End, by Sigal Samuel
Reviewed by Rory McCluckie in YULBuzz:
"It's this blend of mystery and Montreal life that is one of Samuel's most effective achievements but it's by no means the only way that The Mystics of Mile End succeeds. As the author told the crowd at D&Q, she has tried to work the Jewish textual tradition within which she grew up into the narrative while keeping it accessible; the way in which references to Kabbalah are sprinkled throughout the text is a wonderful complement to the mystical element that courses through the characters' lives. She's also done a good job of painting a portrait of Mile End that is vivid, personal and sure to be of interest to anyone who has known the area, past or present. The book abounds in descriptive detail of streets and people that will be immediately familiar to Montrealers despite being glazed with Samuel's particular blend of the mundane and the magical."