RENÉ by Peter Desbarats

RENÉ

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Since RenÉ LÉvesque swept the separatist Parti QuÉbÉcois into power in November 1976, raising the specter of Quebec's secession from the Canadian confederation, a baffled world has wondered: must Canada be destroyed to preserve French-Canadian language and culture? Not the least value of this spirited biography by a savvy Canadian journalist is to demonstrate how, tot the intellectual, pragmatic, anything-but-provincial LÉvesque, only separatism, by 1967, ""made sense out of his life,"" only independence could transform Quebec's history from a lament for a lost people ""into the saga of an extraordinary struggle for survival."" LÉvesque's own struggle began in 1958 when a strike silenced the Canadian Broadcasting System's French-language network--where he was the star news analyst--and, in his words, ""nobody cared."" He entered politics, served as Quebec's Minister of Natural Resources, and became, by 1962, the Liberals' leading critic of ""economic colonialism""--to be countered, first, by nationalizing the province's vast hydroelectric resources. Only economic development could save French Canada, he argued--breaking with two centuries of rural conservatism--""and only the state can enable French-Canadians to become masters of their own economy."" A break with the ameliorist Liberals was inevitable too, and after the 1968 founding of the Parti QuÉbÉcois, so was the eventual face-down between federalists and separatists--represented, for the first time, by a respectable party with a formidable leader. ""The secret was that you felt intelligent when you listened to him,"" a LÉvesque TV fan observed. Unfortunately for American readers, Desbarats' chronicle is incomplete, ending before the 1976 election, and discontinuous: but the effort to master the chronology and disentangle the politics is repaid by nodding acquaintance with a complex, charismatic figure who may someday be negotiating the fate of Canada with his erstwhile associate, Pierre Trudeau.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Lippincott