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The Campain is a novel by Canadian author Ralph Aquin. Originally published in 1924, the novel soon became a major bestseller and nominated for several awards.
When Aquin had written the original draft for the novel, he had not considered a name for it yet. He had considered several names throughout the year; some included Assiniboie, Canada, The Letter and even The Journey. It wasn't until the news of a relative's illness and his pain that he considered combining "Campaign" (from the Canadian Campaign) and "pain" into the portmanteau The Campain.
- When I was young, I was taught three major principles: Love and pray to God. Hate the French. And hate the Americans.
- —Andrew Berwick, opening line
Andrew Berwick, a thirteen-year-old Kingston resident, had lived with his father Winston Berwick of the Canadian army and his younger brother Michael. His mother was believed to have passed away in a fire when he was young, and Andrew's father had taught him Anglocentric values, mainly hating the French and the Americans. These become more relevant as Winston is informed of the declaration of war from the United States.
Fearing an attack on Ontario by the United States as well as Quebec, Winston prepares his sons to leave the city. However, before they can escape, Winston is conscripted to join the Canadian army (most of which were stationed in Europe) to fend off the attack from the Rideau Canal on April 20. Andrew is made man of the house, who is often looked after by their older neighbour, George Laurent, who lives alone. Andrew and his brother live in fear for two weeks. His father, who only wrote one letter, was rarely heard of. George would offer them a meal for lunch and dinner every day that week, and didn't expect Winston to pay him back.
News came to the city of an official assault on Kingston on the 28th of April. Andrew and Michael had spent the day in the basement of the house, eating only fruit and eventually spending the night in it. However, Andrew had awoken in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke, and had realized the house was on fire (later discovering it was an American attack). Using a briefcase, Andrew is forced to break the basement window in order for the two to escape. Once they leave, the two comfort each other as they watch their only home being burned into oblivion. When Michael falls asleep on the grass, Andrew discovers a note from the briefcase that had broke open upon breaking the window. It is from his mother, written from a month prior to the war, describing her experiences in Winnipeg, Assiniboia, along with her address.
Andrew immediately runs to George's house, which has also been burned, coming to the realization that his father has probably been killed. He finds George on the porch, staring at the burnt remains of his house. Andrew seeks George's help to get himself and George to their mother, who lived in a house near Main Street. George, who notes he has "nothing left", agrees to help the only two children who mean anything to him. The two go to George's automobile, which only has minor damages. Andrew picks up his brother and the three head off.
While on the road, Andrew writes in a journal that had been present in the suitcase along with the letter. He expresses his deep hatred for Americans, as well as some for the French. He blames them for the attacks, and wishes a plague similar to the Plagues of Egypt occur on the enemy.
The trio continue their voyage, and leave the car repeatedly to visit sites and eat scarce meals. There are several instances where George is forced to rob banks, bars, and gas stations for money and fuel. He does not tell the children; however, Andrew discovers George's actions one night. He keeps quiet and writes it in his journal, questioning George's integrity.
After several of travel, the three arrive at a train station. While Andrew is asleep, George rummages through Andrew's briefcase and discovers his collection of journal entries. The next morning, Andrew and Michael wake up to find George has left, though not without leaving a note with a large "G" on one side in Andrew's briefcase. The note leaves the brothers with an apology, explains to Andrew that his intentions for the robberies were pure, and must right his wrongs by helping other Canadians that were disorganized due to war. He gives them final instructions to find their mother, and before ending the letter, reveals to them that he himself is French, and explains that not all French or American peoples are bad just because of their heritage.
In the epilogue, a middle-aged Andrew addresses the audience that he and Michael had found their mother safe and sound, and explained to her what had occurred. He explains how the three of them had searched for George to finally thank him, though never do find his location. He also reveals that they had discovered other Canadians that were helped from poverty, homelessness and distress from the attacks on Canadian cities by George's efforts, and the survivors hold a requiem for George, who is assumed dead. The book ends with Andrew discovering a note on his doorstep, with a large "G" on one side.