Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mavis Gallant in the Ottawa Citizen

Mavis Gallant Remembers the Revolution
Keith Spicer, Citizen Special
Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Appraising her white asparagus with lifted eyebrow, Mavis Gallant is living proof of playwright-wit Sacha Guitry's dictum that no woman in Paris is over 40. So when Madame Gallant chronicled France's student-worker May madness of 40 years ago, she was very young -- in fact, Guitry aside, she landed in Paris from Montreal in 1950 at age 28.

Her eyewitness classic, Paris Notebooks, remains one of the most vivid perspectives on how students occupied the Sorbonne in May 1968 and 10 million strikers paralysed the nation. A year later, their earthquake finally drove President Charles de Gaulle from office.

Its aftershocks ripple through France today. And graying rebels of '68 -- many now in high office -- tally their mixed accomplishments. Politically, these soixante-huitards ("sixty-eighters") failed: their mish-mash of Marxism, Maoism, posturing, partying and poetic nonsense changed little in France's power structure or economy. But socially and culturally, they won: sexual freedom (a central motivation), women's lib, divorce, academic democracy, human rights and cocky irreverence ("It is forbidden to forbid") blew the roof off de Gaulle's repressive, ossified society.

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Mavis Gallant's short story collection, Montreal Stories, is available as an unabridged audiobook from Rattling Books. It was named as one of the twelve best fiction audiobooks of the year by Audiofile magazine. Narrated by Margot Dionne with musical interludes by Angèle Dubeau.