Alexandre (also known as Sacha) Trudeau, is the younger brother (by exactly two years) of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the middle son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret. He visited Ottawa’s Writer’s Festival recently to promote his new book Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China.
Normally a documentary filmmaker, this is Trudeau’s first book. It contains his own thoughts and observations based on conversations with Chinese people from every segment of society. He’s had a life-long fascination with the country, something that meshes well with his educational background in philosophy and his zest for adventure and challenge. The book displays the author’s tremendous knowledge of ancient China and places it in the context of the monumental economic and social transformation it has been undergoing for the past 30 years.
The release of the book is timely as his brother the Prime Minister recently returned from a state visit to China. When their father was Prime Minister in 1970, he established diplomatic ties between Canada and communist China, a year before the United States did. He also met Mao Tse-Tung twice.
Alexandre Trudeau’s book is heavy on the opinions and experiences of younger Chinese people as they live and work in a country unrecognizable from what it was 50 years ago. Many of the opinions expressed in the book come from the young Chinese journalist who accompanied him around the country on his six-week visit there in 2006. The woman, given the pseudonym Vivien, is remarkably candid with her opinions on politics and culture in a country that many westerners associate with restricted civil rights.
Trudeau said most Chinese people are quite apolitical and see the communist government as just another dynasty like those that ruled the country centuries ago. He did however acknowledge that the current Chinese leadership has somewhat reversed the modest advances in personal freedom that have been made more recently. Trudeau said that the younger generation of Chinese people are largely happy and enthusiastic, too—mostly because they are better off economically than previous generations.
Trudeau clearly likes a challenge. He spoke of his love for experiencing life through the most dangerous and challenging situations. He said the complicated and unpredictable nature of China presents that challenge and allowed him to better understand the world, including Western society. He said that the colonists who settled North America left most of the class structure of their homelands behind, creating a less structured society here. Trudeau said the Cultural Revolution during the 1960’s in China, although it was chaotic and brutal, had a similar effect.
Barbarian Lost is remarkably well informed and skillfully assembled. The author is a deep thinker with the same gutsy approach that his late father was both loved and loathed for. He clearly demonstrates he’s standing on his own two intellectual feet and is neither in the shadow of, or riding the coattails of his brother and father. He even noted that he does not give advice on dealing with China to his brother. Nonetheless, Alexandre Trudeau, through his intellect and how he exhibits it in writing and discussion, is further contributing to the significant portion of Canadian history that his family occupies.
Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China is published by Harper Collins and retails for CDN$33.99.