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Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country [Paperback]

Mordecai Richler
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 11 1992 0140168176 978-0140168174
The gloves are off where Mordecai Richler and Quebec sovereignty are concerned. With a sure satirical eye, Richler -- himself a Quebecer -- takes a look at what he calls "the western world's goofiest and most unnecessary political crisis."

English-speaking Quebecers endure Draconian language laws prohibiting English or bilingual signs in Mongreal because they are seen as an affront to the city's visage linguistique. Meanwhile, Francophones debate the merits of going it along as a means of protecting their language and culture. But are they prepared for the massive problems independence entails? And can the rest of Canada cope with the calamity of a separate Quebec?

When an excerpt from Richler's work-in-progress appeared in The New Yorker in the fall of 1991, his supremely controversial opinions unleashed a torrent of commentary -- both critical and laudatory -- from the Canadian press and public. Now, in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, Richler expands his arguments, responds to his critics, and takes an illuminating look at blind nationalism in a country where nationhood is seriously under the gun.

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From Publishers Weekly

Novelist-screenwriter Richler, a native of Montreal, predicts a mass exodus of English speakers if a majority of Quebecers opt for independence from Canada in an October 1992 referendum, creating a separate, debt-ridden, predominantly French-speaking nation. If the separatists win, it will be a sad day for Canada, he asserts in this scathing critique of the Francophone Quebecois nationalist movement. Far from being oppressed, he declares, the French-speaking Quebecers constitute a privileged, xenophobic group that promotes divisiveness and imposes absurdly restrictive laws designed to preserve French as the language of the workplace and public discourse. Recalling his upbringing in a working-class Jewish community, Richler charges that from its inception French-Canadian nationalism has been tainted by racism and anti-Semitism. This is a profound, disturbing look at a crisis that could give birth to the world's 18th-largest country. BOMC altenate.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Quebec-born Richler (Solomon Gursky Was Here, 1990, etc.) undertakes a backgrounder to that province's independence movement, with several large flashes of illuminating absurdity about the passionate Quebecois. A referendum will be held this October to determine whether Quebec should ask for independence from Canada. The province has already added a raft of debatable laws to its books, such as one that forbids English-language or bilingual commercial signs on Montreal's streets. Today, Richler tells us, wary shopkeepers welcome customers ``in a fail-safe combination of English and French, singing out, `Hi, bonjour.' '' Moreover, zealots who run Montreal's French Catholic school board shocked even separatists ``with a demand that immigrant students who were caught shooting the breeze in English in the schoolyards should be severely punished.'' And so it goes, with even intellectual Francophones as blinkered and narrow-minded as peasants in a Marcel Pagnol comedy. Actually, Richler explains, 40 percent of Canadians are of neither French nor English extraction; they are of Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, and Italian descent, with growing Chinese, Sikh, African, and Central American enclaves, who will soon form a majority of Canada's populace. Richler also laments Canada's ``functional but nondescript'' cities, the demolition of its oldest buildings and their replacement by entrenched ugliness of ``the utmost banality.'' He offers a lively description of the Mohawk Indians' uprising against the incursion of a golf course into their burial grounds--an uprising that forced a mortified Quebec to call in the Canadian army--and he sees independence as diminishing Quebec into ``being a folkloric society. A place that people come from. Ireland without that country's genius or terrible beauty.'' Unlike most of Richler, largely for Canadians; for a look at Canada that's more accessible to those south of the border, try Jan Morris's O Canada (p. 307). -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A memorable and important read Feb. 21 2006
A masterpiece of political incorrectness, Oh Canada, Oh Quebec! is nevertheless a book that all serious students of Canadian history and politics should read. Though it focuses on Quebec's politics in the early 1990's, it still has a lot to say about the timeless struggle between Quebec and Canada.

Richler - one of Canada's great novelists and writers - demonstrates his sly and caustic wit with this book. It has infuriated his opponents of course (especially the separatists and their supplicants), but Richler always demonstrates an honest courage to say what many were (and still are) afraid to say. The insular, xenophobic nature of the Quebecois separatists is a particularly hot target for Richler.

Admittedly, his charges of Quebec anti-semitism seem to go on too long in this book, and he tends to extrapolate from an older generation to modern times a little too easily. Richler also misses the anti-semitism that's been part of Canada as a whole, and thus overemphasizes Quebec's anti-semitism. He thus ironically mimics some of the narrowness he accuses the Quebecois of displaying.

Nevertheless, most of his other charges hit the mark, especially those aimed at the almost child-like language laws and enforcement policies that have pervaded Quebec in the last 30 years or so.

In the end, Oh Canada, Oh Quebec! is a worthwhile part of Canada's political history. I recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Richler comes down hard on Quebec separatists July 17 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In "Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!", Mordecai Richler really slams the Quebec separatists. The book does a good job of documenting Quebec history going back to that whole "revenge of the cradle" thing. Richler backs up something I've long suspected about Quebec separatism - that it's about settling two hundred year old grudges.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My Kind of Book July 15 2012
By Troy Parfitt TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Mordecai Richler walks us through a history of Quebecois Nationalism to show us it was born out of xenophobic sentiment and blossomed into a movement that was sweeping, pointless, borderline fascist, and utterly insane. Far from being oppressed by les maudites Anglais, Richler documents how the English minority and newcomers to Quebec were subjected to discriminatory laws at the hands of Francophones. The separatist movement tapped into tribal feelings and did little except disrupt the economy, force thousands of Quebeckers to move elsewhere, and creat a lot of animosity. This book deftly deals with the extremism and intolerance of French-Canadian nationalism. It should be required reading for every Canadian, and hopefully it will sell another 85,000 copies when that sordid and silly movement rears its ugly head again. A wonderful book, intelligent and witty. And there there is no retort to it.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
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5.0 out of 5 stars A writer to his time April 11 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Firstly, this book was impossible to find in Toronto and the GTA, even Chapters did not sell it...the book came out in the 70s but Quebec sovereigntists vouched for this book to be banned because it "bashed" Quebec and the Quebecers....but one must note that Richler was born and raised in Montreal, and he loved Quebec. If you have read any biography on Richler, whether it be by Foran, Kramer, or anyone else, you would know that Richler wanted to be a writer for his time, so, with the use of satire to describe the behaviour of many people in Canada, he wrote about what was happening during the time period when Quebec wanted to be sovereign. I personally am a huge fan of Mordecai Richler and his writing, so although this is a nonfiction essay, got through it fairly quickly because of the humorous elements. If you want to learn more about Quebec and Canada during the sovereigntist movement, a definite read!! I learned a lot about it, and a lot about politicians I've never heard of! Bought this for 12 bucks, shipped in 3 days...very pleased!!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars muddled up an interesting subject Jan. 25 2012
By Rick M. Pilotte TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The Quebec issue is complicated and I tend to read anything I can find on the subject. Richler tended use humour but all too often we were left wondering if he was being serious or funny as some of the things said could be true or a joke, and all too often I couldn't tell! So he impeded comprehension with his often attemps at being cute and thus much of the message got lost or obscured in his flipancy. He also had the bothersome habbit of leaving acronims (initials like WASP) unexplained or explained just once then assumed we remembered through the rest of the book, whereas it's normal to write out the full term once at the begginning of a chapter then use the acronym for the rest of the chapter, so I was often searching for their meaning withought results. One acronim (WASP) he never explained even once as he assumed the reader knew it and more and that Quebec was obviously the center of OUR world too. At least one chaper was quite funny and he did shed some light on how predjudiced this corner of Canada can be. And of course some of the facts when you were sure they were facts were quite eye opening.
There were times I was almost shocked at what appeared to be anger or maliciousness in some areas though to be honest I can't recall specifics. I didn't have to force myself to finish but it was something of a chore.
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