Take a look through the book. When you do, you will find that this remarkable memoir has many qualities. It is:
As if he were sitting across the table from you, Pierre Trudeau reminisces about his life in an informal, direct way. He starts with his memories of his family, especially his mother and father, to whom the book is dedicated. There are memorable events from childhood here, such as a visit to complain to the principal on his second day at school. Later there is a lunchroom encounter with a high school bully and then, at the age of fifteen, real tragedy.
“Aroused by the ringing of the telephone, I came out of my room to go downstairs and find out what was happening. But I froze on the landing when I heard the awful words: ‘Your father is dead, Pierre.’”
After an extensive education in Montreal, Boston, London, and Paris, Trudeau set off with a backpack to travel around the world. He tells how he went through one war zone after another, encountering armed bandits and being arrested in wartime Jordan as a Jewish spy. These adventures and further travels through India and war-torn China left with him a deep belief in the rights of the individual and the vital role of government in protecting these rights. He tells how his hatred of narrow nationalism reinforced his stand against requests for special treatment by successive Quebec governments.
From the day he decided to go to Ottawa as a Liberal MP in 1965, Trudeau was clearly on a fast track. After becoming minister of justice in 1967 and tackling very controversial law reforms, he ran for the leadership and became prime minister in 1968 – the first Canadian leader born in the twentieth century. He talks about his use of “the Liberal machine” and all the electoral fights that followed over the year, providing interesting insights into his contests with national opponents such as Robert Stanfield, David Lewis, Joe Clark (a tougher opponent than the man who deposed him), Ed Broadbent, and Brian Mulroney, about whose virtues he is eloquently silent.
As a leader whose time in office ran from the fall of Charles de Gaulle to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, Pierre Trudeau was able to exert his influence to break down the Cold War mentality. He enjoyed good personal rapport with such different leaders as Chou Enlai, Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Helmut Schmidt, and François Mitterand. His relations with Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher were less warm, and he was less impressed by Ronald Reagan’s intellect than by the wisdom of the Queen.
Whether they loved him or hated him, Canadians knew that in Pierre Trudeau’s time, the government stood up for Canada. He stood up to the domestic terrorism of the FLQ – and he makes no apologies here for his tough response to the October Crisis in 1970 – just as he stood up to the provincial premiers (including Réné Lévesque) who he believed were blocking the patriation of Canada’s constitution ten years later.
The author’s preface ends with a word to you, the reader. “Whether you were a Liberal Cabinet colleague, a Canadian voter whose support we sought, or a young Canadian whose future we tried to improve, you are a part of this book.”
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