Who Owns the Clouds?

Who Owns the Clouds?

A review of Who Owns the Clouds? by Mario Brassard

Published on March 16, 2023

Mario Brassard’s multi-award-winning fictional memoir, Who Owns the Clouds?, opens with a more straightforward question: “Did you notice the old photo of me on the first page?” The narrator soon confesses that she cannot recognize the somber little girl with sunken eyes as herself. 

Looking back decades later, Mila’s memories of her childhood spent in a war zone appear through low-lying fog. She recalls that as her family prepared to flee the bombing around them, she was overcome with fatigue. In portending dreams, she walked in an endless line of refugees. When awake, she feared that life as she knew it would all but disappear. The undefined era and place transfer some of Mila’s dissociation to the reader. You may ask yourself: who is this little girl?

Who Owns the Clouds

Who Owns the Clouds?
Mario Brassard
Translated by Yvette Ghione
Illustrated by Gérard DuBois

Tundra Books
$25.95
cloth
100pp
9781774880210

Mila’s recollections come into sharper focus. As in a scene from the movie Life is Beautiful, her uncle donned a clown’s nose and performed daredevil tricks at the top of a chimney stack at the armaments factory at the edge of the city. Mila remembers the guards yelled and that she never again saw her uncle. Now exiled from her home, she sorted the clouds in the sky, “those that belong to us (the white ones) and those that didn’t (all the others).”

Who Owns the Clouds? is a trauma narrative, a complex coming-of-age story, and testimony to the lasting human cost of armed conflict and forced displacement. Brassard’s spare and unflinching prose is smartly translated by Yvette Ghione, and Gerard Dubois’ haunting illustrations in sepia tones carry this work to great heights. A book for junior and adult readers, Who Owns the Clouds? gives voice to the unspeakable. And, when the clouds part, a view to hope.mRb   

Meaghan Thurston is a Montreal-based arts and science writer, co-editor of the anthology With the World to Choose From: Seven Decades of the Beatty Lecture at McGill University, and mother to two budding readers.

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