On November 11th, an audience of roughly a hundred people received Alexandre “Sacha” Trudeau at the University Club of Montreal. The event, presented by the Montreal Press Club, focused on Trudeau’s recently published book, Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China. After a cocktail reception, the journalist, filmmaker and writer read a chapter from his book. The President of the Montreal Press Club, Linda Renaud, then interviewed him in more detail, and moderated questions from the crowd.
Despite being the son of a former Prime Minister and the brother of the current one, Trudeau thinks of himself as an apolitical person. To be fair, he did involve himself in Justin Trudeau’s 2013 leadership campaign, but he stopped after that. “You can’t do just a little bit of politics,” he said to the audience. “It takes everything.” Trudeau also believes it is difficult to be a politician while raising children.
Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China, published by HarperCollins earlier this year, reflects well the nature of its author: Trudeau is a man of action. As a journalist and documentary producer for Canadian television, Trudeau has covered geopolitical conflicts such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “He insisted on being one of the few journalists to live among the people of Baghdad as their city burned,” according to a publication in the National Post. Trudeau hopes his book will allow readers to travel with him through China. Far from academic writing, his work is rather an organized series of experiences and observations while traveling. The book ultimately aims to understand 21st century China.
Traveling he has done. To publish this book, Trudeau undertook ten trips to China, taking no less than a decade to complete the writing. Furthermore, he does not know if he will be able to go back to China this winter, as he would like. Journalists are not particularly welcome in the country, and Trudeau said that working for CBC during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing allowed him to visit places and talk with people in a way he could not have otherwise.
Trudeau also discussed the early influences on his writing. He admitted that as a young reader, he was mostly interested in non-fiction. Fiction was simply not his cup of tea, unlike for his brother Justin and his mother, Margaret. He recalled his father insisting that he read Man’s Fate and Crime and Punishment, which he found pretty dark. Moreover, Montreal had a substantial impact on him as a writer. He said he particularly appreciated the fact that the city does not hold a culture of idolization. Whoever you are in Montreal, people are respectful, and let you be.
The Trudeau family has an interesting history of traveling to China. Pierre Trudeau visited the country with his friend Jacques Hébert in 1960—they would eventually publish the book Two Innocents in Red China in 1968—and he went back as Prime Minister of Canada. He also took his sons Justin and Alexandre on a trip in 1990. Justin went back five years later, and then earlier this year as the Prime Minister of Canada.
When addressing whether or not communism is still good for China, Trudeau said, “[the country] is ready for something else as a society.” It can be felt through people. “[Canadian and Chinese people] are radically different,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends”.
For his next project, Trudeau will go back to movie production. However, he said it would not be a documentary. Trudeau now leans toward fiction, as this medium allows to go places where you cannot go when producing documentaries. He mentioned the fragility of democracy as a theme he might like to address. Without giving too many details, he said, “I want to go into the deep, dark Canadian past.”
Published by The Prince Arthur Herald on November 18, 2016.