A Fair Country Hardcover – Sep 16 2008
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Quill & Quire
The title of John Ralston Saul’s newest book, A Fair Country, sounds like a rejected Liberal Party campaign slogan, but its contents are much more combative, provocative, and stimulating than anything likely to be uttered during an election campaign. The book is divided into four parts, the fourth of which attempts to tie the first three together. However, the individual sections work better as standalone essays. In the first, “A Métis Civilization,” Saul makes a strong (if counterintuitive) case that Canadian culture owes more to its native roots than to the European settlers and their Judeo-Christian belief system. He even says the idea of multiculturalism was alive and well centuries ago among the First Nations, where communities with different languages and traditions co-operated with one another and lived side by side. In the second essay, Saul argues that if certain lawmakers and thinkers of the time had prevailed, the British North America Act’s famous phrase – “peace, order, and good government” – would have read “peace, fairness, and good government.” That simple switch, Saul contends, affected Canada’s image of itself and, in more concrete terms, created “a growing confusion as to the purpose of the state.” But Saul’s examples of this triumph of form and process over the best interests of the citizenry aren’t entirely persuasive. Saul is far more convincing – and confrontational – in the third part of the book, “The Castrati,” about how Canada’s elite have failed the country. Saul takes dead aim at business leaders, bureaucrats, and politicians for their general inaction, claiming that their unwillingness to take risks or think independently and creatively is hurting the country. Over the course of the chapter, Saul eviscerates a litany of elites who have failed the country in one way or another – Ministry of Finance economists and other bureaucrats, Air Canada CEO Robert Milton, convict Conrad Black (“he has only created one thing – one newspaper”), the RCMP, and even Ontario’s teachers for their silence in the face of the BCE sell-off. In a nation with a more vital public sphere, A Fair Country would, if nothing else, stimulate further discussion about our relationship with our elites and incite more interest in the intellectual underpinnings of the polity. But given the debased state of Canadian public discourse, the closest thing to a public reaction we can likely expect is some snarking in the right-wing press about the irony of Saul, a bestselling author and former resident of Rideau Hall, taking on the elite.
"A plain but telling litmus test of the impact of a new book is whether you find yourself acting by it. Already, having read A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, John Ralston Saul's argument for Canada as an aboriginal-minded society, I find myself talking more easily about the colonial encumbrance and the influence of first nations on our national consciousness. A Fair Country may be wishful thinking; it plays conjurer's tricks with history and, quite deliberately, creates new founding myths. But it is also a brilliant and timely argument about Canada's complex nature and our country's best future course." - The Globe and Mail
"What a relief it is to read something so observant about Canada. Here we are in the throes of an election, when ideas about our history and identity should matter enormously, but you will find no such acknowledgment in the discourse of our politicians. They would do well to read this book. They would learn, for instance, that the contempt our governing lot has shown toward the previous idea Canadians had of the country - as a fair, multicultural and peacekeeping one - even as they demonstrate a craven deference toward the military and economic imperatives of the United States, is a symptom of minds still, in effect, colonized." - The Globe and Mail
"Saul's "truths about Canada" include a damning exposition of our postcolonial shackles, a detailed historical case for the reversion of our national credo to "peace, welfare and good government," and a condemnation of Canadian business as mediocre, uninspired and wanting. All of these arguments are derived from the core idea of A Fair Country, which is that Canada is a polity fashioned in neither the European nor the American mould. Consequently, Saul argues, we should not be imagining ourselves in the tradition of either, but instead recognize the country's distinct nature, born of this land, and the integration, not just interaction, of settler and aboriginal life." - The Globe and Mail
"…the inversion of attitudes Saul is attempting through his reconfiguring of history is a welcome, necessary step toward Canada's better realization. It is high time that some of our dominant founding myths - such as Canadians being, ever since the days of the United Empire Loyalists, the (cowardly) progeny of people in flight - were revised, and this cannot be done without the telling of a story that, at first listening, shocks. Joseph Boyden, one of the few novelists Saul cites, did this with Three Day Road, in which Cree snipers fight alongside other Canadians at Ypres. For any who have read that extraordinary book, it is subsequently impossible to consider either founding story - of the nation formed through Canadians' discovery of each other in the trenches, or of our aboriginal pedigree - in isolation. After Boyden, the two were inextricably intertwined." - The Globe and Mail
"we are a Métis nation, certainly, and it has never been so eloquently said." - The Globe and Mail
"A Fair Country has the potential to change the way Canadians see themselves forever." - Winnipeg Free Press
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The second review is right here on amazon.ca by "Book Reader" of Vancouver BC. Book Reader accuses Saul of glorifying Canada as morally superior while conveniently ignoring the truth of aboriginal residential schools. Not true. On page 32, Saul writes "I sense that the evil perpetrated in the residential schools -- the deadly health conditions, the banning of language and culture, the sexual degradation and physical violence, the disruption of families -- was the expression of a deep and growing Euro-Canadian anger at the refusal of the noble ancestor to reach for his full apotheosis by disappearing." This is a full and brutal acknowledgment of residential school truth. Far from glorification, Saul exposes and decries Canada's track record in dealing with aboriginals.
Book Reader also claims that Saul attempts to steal aboriginal cultural identity, which is also incorrect. Saul argues that Canada's true identity has been shaped by profound influences of aboriginal society, not by a monolithic European heritage as is taught in our schools today. In other words, Saul doesn't steal aboriginal cultural identity but rather reinforces it by giving our aboriginal ancestors full credit for what is good in Canada.Read more ›
All of these adjectives are befitting 'A Fair Country'. And more. (In its own bizarre way, it's a love letter to the nation.)
When I lived in the UK, I would often be called upon to answer the question 'So; Canadians and Americans... What's the difference?' Having been born and raised in Canada, having lived in the US, having half my family there as residents, I felt eminently qualified to provide a fairly cogent answer.
After reading Saul's book, I humbly confess that I'd been wrong.
Turns out I didn't really understand much at all about Canada, its history, what it means to be a Canadian...not even how it all relates to the U.S., to being 'not American'.
I won't belabour the point here by rehashing what's in the tome. My copy was dog-footed to the extreme, there were so many bits that I just had to go back to, or excerpt for friends. Suffice it to say that 'A Fair Country' is by far the most important book I've read this year, and as a Canadian, one the most important ever. It's unsettled me, forced me to look at elements of Life in Canada in entirely different ways, compelled me to re-examine my perspective. (As a screenwriter, it's even given me pause to consider Canadian history as source material, no mean feat.)
'A Fair Country' should be required reading for all Canadians. The resulting dialogue might get us up off our collective apathetic arses and into action, at long last creating the nation we're capable of realizing.
Art Matters: The Art of Knowledge/The Knowledge of Art
There is so much I want to say about this book that I am not sure where to start.
First, even though I have been here longer than my country of origin (U.S.A.)
I am an immigrant. I came with no intention of staying and I am not only still here 40 years later, I have been a citizen for 35 of those years.
One of the things I saw immediately in Canada, as opposed to the United States is a high degree of tolerance, especially of things different. I saw this not only in day to day life, but in our political system.
But, over the years, things have changed. Two of the reasons for the change were obvious: subservience to Washington and an acceptance of neo-con economics, both of which have certainly led to the decline of what can be considered Canadian values.
As a philosopher I have written about the cultural foundation of values. What Canadian governments have done in the past twenty five years has been to forget about what it means to be Canadian and to employ artificial policies, which have had the result of our loss of our cultural identity.
We not have known where that identity came from, but we were aware of it.
Voter turnouts have declined. Our leaders blame the electorate. But the real reason, as Saul so eloquently shows, is that very leadership. Our leaders do represent us and so we stay away from the polls.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Gift for my father and hears JR Saul speak myself at U of T. He's wise and insightful!Published 20 months ago by Wendy Eustace
The first part of this book, Metis Nation, is fabulous! It's a unique theory and accessibly written. The rest of the book is also very good, but it is more overtly political.Published 20 months ago by Philosopher Queen
An incredibly creative and honest look about what makes Canadians Canadian and which gives justice to the role of Aboriginal peoples in this country.Published on April 27 2014 by Bryan Gallagher
this is the first book I've come across to dispute the quaint notion, that Canada is comprised of "two solitudes", (English & French colonial cultures); and, to honour the... Read morePublished on Jan. 20 2014 by Derek Stephen McPhail
A very interesting analysis of Canada and its native people, every Canadian should read it, I would even suggest it should be obligatory reading in schools...
I really wanted to like this book but after 100 pages, I had to put it out of its misery. Saul comes across as an academic, trying to fit every little detail into a theory he... Read morePublished on Dec 8 2012 by Marc
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