New book from Noah Richler drops April 20!By Colleen Kitts • Apr 12th, 2012 • Category: Book Reviews, Goose Lane Authors, Happenings
What We Talk About When We Talk About War
It’s a book that’s been hotly anticipated for more than a year. When word got out that Noah Richler was turning his provocative Antonine Maillet-Northrop Frye lecture into a full-length work, the buzz began. And it’s still growing.
In What We Talk About When We Talk About War, Richler takes a clear-eyed look at the tectonic shift in Canada’s military policy over the last decade. He casts a skeptical eye toward Canada, the “warrior nation,” speaking back to a new establishment wading into conflicts such as the bloody war in Afghanistan, trampling our former pride in peacekeeping into the desert sand.
“Is it really possible that, over the course of one decade, the Canadian worldview has changed so dramatically?”
This is the fundamental question raised by the altered discourse of the last decade and posed by the book. “Can it be that the character of a nation becomes something else entirely in such a short period of time, or did it never truly veer from what it was?” Richler asks.
When the book hits stores later this month, there will be controversy, as Richler’s combative polemic examines the narrative employed by politicians, the military and the media, taking these groups to task for our revised national mythology and their convenient re-interpretation of the events of past wars. Speaking on the phone from his home in Toronto, Richler says he is ready for the debate. He wants to get all of Canada thinking, and talking, about our role in the wider world.
“The Canada I believe in, and that I have always fought for in my writing, is a place of lively debate, a country in which opposition and dissenters are not vilified for contradicting popular positions. Argument is healthy, and it’s vital that we speak out and discuss issues such as Canada’s militarization or, a related phenomenon, the intolerant stance of our present government.”
The polemicist’s role is one Richler wishes more writers would undertake.
“When I was travelling the country and researching my last book, This is My Country, What’s Yours? [the bestseller that won the 2007 B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and was on all the year's major "Best of" lists], I was surprised at how so few of our writers - novelists especially - are comfortable speaking out about public affairs. Margaret Atwood is an exception, as my father Mordecai also was. It is as if the cultural downside of our resource economy is that we’re not as competitive as we should be, even in the realm of comment. We go to certain people for their views automatically, and many qualified people hesitate to offer their own comment as if it is somehow not their right. This is actually bad for Canada.
“This was an issue that I had to reconcile within myself before I started on What We Talk About When We Talk About War. I needed, in a sense, to understand what could possibly be my authority in a book that is, on the one hand, about the stories and the language we use to make a certain outcome possible but, on the other hand, used the example of a country I had not visited [Afghanistan] and a war in which I had not taken part.
“Eventually I decided that I was able to write this book in good faith not just because story is a personal passion, as readers of my previous book will know, but also because most of the decision-makers in government, think tanks, and the media had been nowhere near Afghanistan when they made critical decisions far more consequential than mine.
“But most of all I realized that my love for my country was the qualification, even if the Canada I am defending has been, in recent years, very much under threat. When I am considered a public intellectual what does that really mean? It just means I want to talk about the issues that we face as a nation, and I think that’s something that we can all do. That role doesn’t belong to one person. When I have spoken about this book publicly, there has been a tremendous sense of relief that another point of view is being articulated, that there is more than one side to the very important debate about how Canada understands its position not just in the world, but at home.”
In an effort to meet and engage with as many people as possible during his cross-country book tour, Richler is taking part in readings, panels, festivals, and informal coffee-shop gatherings. Next to writing, conversation is what he does best. Richler is also arranging, with Goose Lane, to visit universities, book clubs, and high schools to speak to students.
“We all owe our future and, too much of the time, a great big apology to young people. I was only able to arrive at the suggestions I make in What We Talk About When We Talk About War because of the vitality and outward-looking selflessness of Canadian youth. Canada’s younger generations are an amazing bunch, and it’s going to be up to young people to imagine and build the place that our current leaders evidently cannot.”
As Richler travels to publicize this new book, he will be covering some familiar ground. As a young man, he walked across a vast section of Saskatchewan while working for a drilling company. He also worked in the mines in Labrador and has visited much of the country in his everyday life as a working writer and essayist. What We Talk About When We Talk About War is a cri de coeur from a man who loves Canada . . . unashamedly.
“Everything I do is for and about this country. I write for Canada. Maybe if I was a savvier fella I’d write books more likely to sell elsewhere but I just can’t help it. I’m absolutely fascinated with what it means to be Canadian and the very real chance this country has to make its own, meaningful mark.”
Colleen Kitts is working at spotting golden opportunities for Goose Lane's non-fiction line. When she was a little girl, she used to sing for money. For a nickel, she would warble her best rendition of Que Sera Sera for tourists at the fishing lodge where her dad worked as a guide. Even at the tender age of three, Colleen knew how to reel in a crowd. These days her rates have gone up!!
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