Language is everything

Noah Richler’s What We Talk About When We Talk About War was nominated for a 2012 Governor General’s literary award. Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

For Canadian writer and journalist Noah Richler, maintaining a critical view of your country and its politics is paramount.

Born in Montreal, Richler studied classics and archeology at McGill and then moved on to study politics and economics at Balliol College at Oxford University in England. Subsequently, he worked for BBC Radio and then returned to Canada in 1998 to work at the National Post as the paper’s books editor. Richler’s first book, This Is My Country, What’s Yours, won the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2007.

Although Richler has lived a great part of his life in England, he still feels very attached to his home country of Canada. “Going back and forth between Canada and Britain affected my outlook a lot,” he said, “because I feel very Canadian.”

Richler is no stranger to the Canadian literary world. His father, Mordecai Richler, Concordia’s most famous dropout, is one of Montreal and Canada’s most celebrated writers. Unlike his father, Richler sticks to non-fiction when it comes to his writing. “I think of myself as an essayist,” he said.

Like every other writer, Richler dedicates a lot of himself to his work. “I try to work at least five days a week,” he said. “I try to write everyday to remind myself that that’s what I do.”

When asked about his writing process Richler said, “when you find a book, or a book finds you, it determines its own rhythm. You work like mad and everything you see in the world around you has to do with the idea that you’ve chosen.”

Mainly preoccupied with Canadian identity Richler’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, which was nominated for this year’s Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction, takes a critical look at the country Canada has become after multiple international wars.

Richler says he was inspired to write the book when he saw an interview between CBC’s Shelagh Rogers and Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, a soldier who was wounded in the Afghan war. In the interview, Franklin’s wife said that if Canada had pulled out of the war, her husband would have lost his legs for nothing. “That’s true,” said Richler, “but it’s also not an argument for staying.”

Richler addresses many issues in his new book, like the way politicians and the military use language to convince Canadians that we are a warrior nation.

“I was very upset at the language that was being used,” he said. When asked about the impact he would like his book to have on his readers, Richler said, “My book will be successful if it brings people’s attentions to the way we use language to permit different things.”

Richler often speaks in high schools because he understands the importance of reading. “I like speaking at schools,” he said, “it’s a very good discipline for me.” Richler recounts what it was like as a child to pick up a book, not like it and feel guilty about it. “You don’t like a book, don’t worry about it,” he said, “It’s not your fault. Just don’t stop reading because of it.”

Writing a book on war is a sombre topic and Richler hopes that his book will incite readers to take a more serious outlook on war. “When we go to war,” he said, “we should do it with gravity and lament. It’s a serious thing. We should really regret having to do it.”

With the recent success of What We Talk About When We Talk About War, which was published last April, one would expect Richler to sit back and enjoy the attention. However, writers are restless souls and he is already planning a new book.

What We Talk About When We Talk About War retails for $24.95 and is available from Chapters Indigo and

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