Richard Jobs’ recent book, Riding the New Wave, is described as a “fascinating study” in the July 6, 2007 issue of the Times Literary Supplement. Examining how the idea of youth was conceptualized and experienced during France’s Fourth Republic, Jobs argues that “youth, both as a concept and as a social group, [was] a primary mechanism in France’s postwar rejuvenation and its cultural reconstruction because the young, through their buoyant energy and dynamism, symbolically pointed the way to the future.”
World War II destroyed not only France’s physical infrastructure, but its societal infrastructure as well. During the German occupation, France had essentially been fighting a civil war – Nazi collaborators against those fighting for independence. In Riding the New Wave, Jobs describes the war years as “a terrible experience for France… characterized as much by betrayal and treachery as they were by heroism and sacrifice.”
Faced with the difficult task of reuniting and rebuilding their society and weary from the long years of war, the French fixed on newness as a possibility of hope. The youth came to be seen both as new and as a reason to hope; “they represented the hope of a future unburdened by the devastation of the recent past.” Moreover, youth was a common denominator for all factions of society – everyone is young once – and therefore was accessible as a concept around which to unite.
Riding the New Wave examines a much-overlooked period of French history, providing insight into the years leading up to the radical student protests of the late 1960s. Readers will see that although France was dealing with a unique and difficult situation, many of its ideas of youth mirror those we currently hold.