The Girl from Dream City
A Literary Life
Vivid stories from a Canadian literary icon, who shares a life spread across continents and immersed in books.
It’s the life that many young women dream of: education in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities before becoming a novelist, essayist, translator and literary curator.
But the start of Linda Leith’s journey is anything but idyllic. The daughter of a glamorous mother and a charming left-wing doctor, she is never told of her father’s psychiatric breakdown or his subsequent shock therapy for what was then called manic depression.
As this secret festers, Leith’s father uproots the family to various European cities as he reinvents himself as a corporate executive, eventually moving across the Atlantic to Montreal.
It’s there, in her first year of university, that Leith is inspired by Madame de Staël: a writer and salonnière, banished from Paris by Napoleon himself. With none of Staël’s advantages—no wealth, no social status, no château on Lake Geneva—Leith can scarcely imagine a salon, but she is drawn to Paris, and dreams of becoming a writer.
This dream fuels her education in London, her marriage and writing in Budapest, and—finally—her journey back to Montreal where she meets a community of writers and readers who she works with to transform the city’s literary scene.
As Leith publishes, translates, and curates, she also comes to terms with her troubled father and the secrets of her childhood.
A luscious read, this book will rivet readers of Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain and Tara Westover’s Educated, or anyone who has dreamed of building a cultural life.
“If you liked memoirs by Diana Athill, Alexandra Fuller, and Madame de Staël, you'll love Linda Leith's new book. ”—Mary Soderstrom, author of Concrete and Frenemy Nations
"As this compelling memoir demonstrates, Leith built herself not simply a literary life – as a novelist, non-fiction writer and editor of a literary magazine – but also a dazzling multilingual and multinational salon in the form of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis literary festival which, under her 15-year tenure, grew to be a world-class event. / Fearless and unstoppable, Leith made a literary name for herself and then put that name on her own press, while her communitarian vision gave voice to writers both local and international. And it all began with a teenage dream. ” —Will Aitken, author of Anitigone Undone