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Levesque, Rene.

Toronto. McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 368pp, cloth. 524.95, ISBN 0-7710-5285-5. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Neil Payne

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

Rene Levesque’s memoirs is a remarkable personal account by one of the most amazing and noteworthy politicians of our century. Levesque first recounts his last few months as premier and the decision to resign as leader. He then returns to his youth in Gaspe, his education at a private seminary, followed by a period at law school, and work as a freelance journalist. Since World War II was the big news of the day. Levesque became a broadcaster on the American French-language radio station beamed into Nazi-occupied Europe. He accompanied French troops as they entered Germany, personally witnessing the capture of Hermann Goering and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

On returning from the war. Levesque joined CBC Radio. He recounts the many assignments that made his face and voice familiar to both English and French-speaking Canadians; the Korean war, a royal lour of Canada by Princess Elizabeth and her new husband, the coronation, the state visit to Russia by then Minister of External Affairs tester Pearson, and the suez crisis. Then came the highly popular French-language weekly news commentary program, "Point de Mire," that made Levesque a media star, as well as a respected commentator.

In 1960, he joined Jean Lesage and the Liberal party and became a major player in the Quiet Revolution. Levesque was minister of public works, then minister of natural resources and the man who created Hydro Quebec. Levesque left the Liberal party in 1967, having chosen the separatist option, and soon started building the organization that became the Parti Quebecois. The PQ grew rapidly, until the FLQ crisis and the War Measures Act turned Quebec overnight from a democracy to a military dictatorship. The extreme actions of the FLQ were a severe blow to the PQ, as "PQ=FLQ" became the rallying cry of the anti-separatist forces. But political fortunes change quickly, and soon the corruption, arrogance, and incompetence of the Bourassa government gave the PQ new life and created the miracle victory of November 1986.

Levesque's years as premier include the stormy federal-provincial dealings of the decade from 1976 lo 1985, the many First Ministers' Conferences, the new constitution, and the Quebec referendum, as well as many initiatives within Quebec.

The book has a second major theme: the struggle with Trudeau. Levesque and Trudeau, one the Quebec nationalist, the other the Canadian federalist, established themselves as the two main figures in both Quebec and Canada for a decade that was to decide the survival of the country. These two giants not only stood on opposite sides of every major issue through these years, but they also had a long-standing personal antipathy that affected their interactions. Levesque's account of this monumental struggle is in many ways as important as the personal profile he provides.

This book is a fascinating account of the great issues in Quebec for the past thirty years, a personal memoir of a major political figure, and a unique glimpse of the soul of one of the most charming and outrageous, most loved, and most despised public figures in Canada.

Certainly Memoirs sees all of the events and issues from Levesque's point of view, a point of view that is often far from objective and often fails to give opponents their due. But this book's greatest strength is that it allows us to see the issues and events through Levesque's eyes and so allows us to understand the issues, the events, and the man, better than any objective account ever could. lt is THE Must buy book of the year for every high school, college, university, and public library in Canada.

Neil Payne, Kingston C.I., Kingston, Ont.
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