Synopsis

Story Synopsis – The Berkeley Girl

Photo from Blue and Gold 1968, Volume 95, University of California, Berkeley

Photo from Blue and Gold 1968, Volume 95,
University of California, Berkeley

In fall, 1967, the Vietnam War threatens to tear apart the lives of college students all over America. At UC Berkeley, Janet Magill, a shy and insecure freshman, has just learned that her brother Matt has been drafted. She fears that her childhood sweetheart, Aaron Becker, may well be next. When she reveals her plan to join a group of antiwar activists, Aaron attempts to shield her with his cynicism about the value of extremist tactics. Janet challenges Aaron’s protectiveness and her own timidity, taking to the streets to protest the war. Her patriotic, conservative parents swiftly exile her from Berkeley’s antiwar atmosphere to what they imagine will be a safe, idyllic springtime in Paris.

The year is 1968, and the seeds of the nationwide “May Revolution” have already begun to germinate when Janet arrives in Paris in March. Janet and Aaron correspond as they plot to meet in France after Aaron’s June graduation. In Paris, Janet lives in a boarding house where her French bourgeois landladies try unsuccessfully to control their radical student boarders. At her French language school, she meets an attractive and enigmatic Czech dissident, Teodor Pelnar. With Aaron’s skittish and cynical diatribes ringing in her ears, Janet is drawn to Teo’s passionate willingness to risk all for his country’s freedom.

Photo from the personal collection of Elise Frances Miller. Demonstration, May 13, 1968.

Photo from the personal collection of Elise Frances Miller. Demonstration, May 13, 1968.

By May, when street battles and a general strike freeze and devastate her adopted country, Janet discovers her connection to the French rebel cause and the international youth revolution. When she joins one of many, small Revolutionary Action Committees, and her self-assurance there grows, she also finds the courage to serve as a decoy for Teo’s own, anti-Soviet subversive activity.

Though Aaron’s plans to dodge the draft have fallen apart, Janet and Aaron continue to correspond until cut off completely by the general strike in France. Neither Aaron nor Janet’s parents imagine that she has joined the May Revolution and that her “safe” year abroad has turned into a dangerous coming of age.