Montreal Reads: Serafim and Claire by Mark Lavorato

SerafimandClaireSerafim and Claire is a story about two people trying to escape the rigid social mores of the past to find passion in their single-minded pursuit of art. Claire flees the servitude of working for a rich Anglo family to dance on the stages of Montreal’s burlesque theatres, where she’s sure she’ll get noticed and swept away to glittering Hollywood or New York.

Serafim leaves Portugal to escape the stratified social circles that have shut the door against his misplaced ardour for an aristocratic young woman. He takes his portable Leica camera with him as he sails for a new world where people will surely appreciate the value of his candid action shots over stiffly composed portraiture.

But neither Claire nor Serafim can pursue the pure aesthetism of their art in the social roil of 1920s Montreal—they are buffeted on all sides by the realities of the post-war city. Sexual violence, Italian fascism, women’s suffrage, English-French tensions, abortion politics, police corruption, and poverty swirl around them, demanding their attention. Perhaps they could rise above it all with one daring scheme, but will their scheme cost them everything?

Montreal landmarks in Serafim and Claire: the Golden Square Mile, the red-light district

Mark Lavorato, grew up in the Canadian prairies, but as an adult he has travelled and lived in countries throughout Central and North America, the Caribbean, and Europe. He now lives in Montreal with his wife. In addition to being the author of several volumes of fiction and poetry, Lavorato is also a photographer, a passion he caught while researching the character of Serafim. 

Lavorato on Montreal in the 1920s: “They were letting loose and it was this kind of party town. Of course, prohibition was happening in the United States in the 1920s and that meant there were huge trainloads of citizens who would come up from New York, Philadelphia, Boston just for the weekend to be able to party legally here in this…sinful city…. The politics were even more corrupt than they are now—there was free-flowing money and there were all kind of scams to make that money because of this strange mix of legal sin and illegal sin. And in this kind of naive time, there were also these incredibly naive idealists who came out of the swath of immigrants who were in the city, and they were proponents of big new ideas….”¹

Next up: Ru by Kim Thúy



1 Lavorato, Mark. “Historic Montreal in Fact and Fiction.” Ideas. CBC, 2014.


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