Skip to content

Questions from our Presentation

1. Did you feel that your novel had aspects of other types of storytelling besides written?

2. How easy was it for you to get into your novel? Did you connect or were there disconnections, and why? How does “Your Canada” play a part in that?

3. Do you think mainstream media prefers to stay away from Canadian-ness as a theme in a movie?


If you were too shy to answer them in class or didn’t think of anything to say until later we would love to hear your thoughts! So feel free to comment!


Click on the poster to see our Prezi

Storytelling in Barney’s Version

Jessica Louie

Hi everyone,

Tomorrow for my section of the presentation I will be talking about the storytelling in Barney’s Version.

Did you know there are three medias that Barney’s Version has been made into? It is of course a book, but it was also made into an audiobook in 2003 and a film in 2010. It covers three types of story telling; written, oral and visual.

Oral Storytelling

Even within the novel Barney’s version almost appears to be a story that Barney is orally telling you. He goes off on tangents and tell the reader what he wants when he wants as if he were a sitting in a chair telling you his story in person.

Written Storytelling

There are a lot of similarities between Barney and Richler.

Barney is an unreliable narrator. For this reason his son has written footnotes throughout the story. I’ll discuss the importance of these footnotes.

Visual Storytelling

The settings in Barney’s Version are very important. In some points of the novel you almost feel like you are walking though Montreal with him.

Richler’s Montreal in Barney’s Version

Conference preview: Discovering and Constructing Canada

by Joyce Lin

I’ve attended a few conferences since my first one back in the early years of high school. Looking back now, the conferences were always hyped up by different promotional and marketing strategies. Well, we’ve got this blog and I want to make the most use of it.

As James, Jess and I try our best to share with you Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, I will be specifically sharing with you, Mordecai Richler’s Canada. In doing so, I will contrast it to My Canada.

As I spend my 5 minute’s share of the presentation, I want to challenge you to also reflect on your Canada…It’s an exercise that takes more than 5 minutes obviously, so I want to prepare you a little bit if you haven’t had the time to read the posts we’ve been making in the past few weeks.

Don’t worry, there’s not much reading I promise! I’m going to use a bunch of more informative and cool links–extensions 😉 that you can follow for each topic I’m going to touch on…

Discovering and Constructing Canada

  • Mordecai Richler

It’s impossible to sum up Mordecai Richler with the time I’ve got, so please take the 3 minutes to find out just a little bit about him before Monday…our presentation will be easier to relate to and understand (thanks!)

  • Montreal in the 1950s
Barney’s life is largely played out in Montreal, Canada…if you’re like me and have never been there, it’ll be a good idea to get a sense of the place is like.
  • Anti-Semitism in Canada
  • French vs. English Canada (and why Mordecai Richler is disliked by many French Canadians in Quebec)
An article from The Gazette
  • On Life, Death and Love
A more in depth look into Mordecai Richler and his attitude on Canada if I’ve got you interested 🙂
Finally, I want you to think about this question:
How easy was it for you to get into your novel (group novel for the conference)? Did you connect or were there disconnections, and why? How does “Your Canada” play a part in that? 
We’ll find out what you think on Monday then 🙂 See you then!

Movie Adaptation


Please watch this everyone!

Please come down from the clouds and land into reality

by Joyce Lin

“Canada is

a)a dictatorship

b)a post-colonial democracy of limited culture

c)a theocracy

None of the above answers apply. The truth is Canada is a cloud cuckoo land, an insufferably rich country governed by idiots, its self-made problems offering comic relief to the ills of the real world out there, where famine and racial strife and vandals in office are the unhappy rule.” (pg 386)

Just for your reference, the definitions of theocracy: government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided (from
and cloud cuckoo landa realm of fantasy or of whimsical or foolish behavior (from The origin of cloud cuckoo land

It’s not hard to see why Richler was so controversial. Like Barney, he was aware that many disliked him and thought he was an angry person. I have finished Barney’s Version and surprisingly at the end of it, I really liked Barney. (I had begun the novel in utter confusion and a little bit of frustration at Richler’s style and vocabulary…)

I think Barney is one who is critical and appears to be rudely sarcastic and blunt but once you get to know him, as one does by reading the novel from beginning to end, you find yourself wanting to say “You know something, Barney? You’re not such a bad guy” (pg 387).

Richler is the same, I feel. Although he may be offensively honest in speaking what is on his mind, if you look carefully, he is not attacking Canada but expressing his hope for a better Canada. By rejecting Canada as either a dictatorship, a post-colonial democracy of limited culture or a theocracy, Barney expresses Richler’s confidence in Canada. Richler is aware that there are other countries who struggle with unfortunate and limiting political circumstances by dictators and theocratic leadership. Canada does not. As well, Richler also believes that Canada does have a culture.

One of my high school teachers often reminded us that our school, Richmond and even Canada is enclosed by a little bubble. Everything is safe and good in the bubble and we float around, often unaware of the turbulence and inequalities in the world. I heard his voice saying this in the above excerpt from the novel. By reminding us that Canadians may have been naive and unaware of reality in this “cloud cuckoo land”, I think Richler is begging Canada to be better local as well as global citizens.

I was reading a bit more on Richler and his view on Canada when I encountered the following opinion:

If anything, the most vicious slash at the nationalists was a quote from Pierre Trudeau, who had called them “politically stupid … perpetual losers … a bunch of snivellers who should have been sent packing and told to stop having tantrums like spoiled adolescents.”

Read more:

Thought that was interesting because we’ve been talking about Trudeau.

Anyway, I think the Canada I know today is populated by people who are aware of “the real world out there” Richler was talking about. As for the people who found his views offensive…well, I must say, people find comments painful often because it has a bit of truth they could identify.

But hold on, I feel King would question, is Canada really not a dictatorship?

Canadian-ness personified


After finishing the book I found it interesting, and just wanted to make one comment about the ‘genre’.  I think I’m going to watch the movie version of this as well to see how well it incorporates important aspects from text to film.

One of the aspects that stands out with regards to “Canadian-ness” in this novel (and also is a recurring theme) is Barney’s use of french.  Being an English-speaking Jew who was born in Montreal Quebec, his memoirs or recounting of his life contained bits of broken and misplaced french.  As some would say: “Only in Canada” where uniqueness such as this would be tolerated, leading me to believe this was an ulterior motive for Barney to move back to Canada from Paris; seeing that his Quebecois frenchwas bad enough it probably would not stand in Paris.

In the accompanying photo, we see Barney in his prime “state of nature”, revealing him to be a whiskey guzzling Monte Cristo smoking sack of a

man.  He tends to consider himself classy, but can be seen as just a step up from the stereotypical Canadian (oh really?).  From a step up from the stereotypical canadian would just be his manner of attire (business/casual), and his preferred alcohol (whiskey/champagne) compared to what others think of Canadians as sloppy dressers and beer drinking hockey lovers (which Barney is).  So Canadian, eh?

Barney in his prime.

Re: MON Treal and racism

I completely agree with your post on racism Joyce.

In today’s world racism is such a hot topic and everyone it  seems is afraid to called a racist or to be affiliated with any racist people.

Like Joyce states, you have to look up the definition of racism before you call someone racist.

“You can teach an old dog new tricks” I think one of the main reasons you can call Richler a racist is because he lived in a time where racism was okay. Today if a person makes one racist comment it is difficult for anyone to see you anything but a racist. Before a person could make racist comments left, right and center and no one would bat an eye.

My generation has lived in a world where racism has always been wrong. But Richler has not. He has lived in a world where it was basically acceptable to be racist one second and the next is living in a world where everyone must be politically correct.

I’m not entirely sure where I am going with this post. I know being racist is wrong and I am not making excuses for those that have made what is considered racist comments in the past. But I think before people start calling others racist and harassing them (see the video on Joyce’s post), we should consider what was the norm in their lifetime. (yes I know just because it was the norm then, does not make it acceptable)

Racism is a touchy subject… feel free to comment. Agree, disagree, comment on anything. Do you know any people of an older generation who lived when racism was normal and find today’s view of racism difficult to abide by? Do you think Richler fits into this category?

The Subtly of Canada

Jessica Louie

So after finishing the book, I watched the movie adaptation that was released last year. Since this course is about Canada and finding allusions of Canadian-ness one, I tried to see if the movie portrayed Canada in the same way that the book seems to do. It did not! I feel that when reading the novel, I was very aware that it took place in Canada, Montreal specifically. Sure the movie was filmed in Montreal, but I just didn’t get the same Canadian “vibe” that I got from the novel.  I can’t really put my finger on what exactly made the novel more Canadian, but I guess that is the point of the class… to find out what Canadian-ness is. Maybe it was Barney constantly mentioning Montreal and the fact that he is a Montrealer. I feel like Canadians seem to be very proud of the fact that they are Canadians they want to show it off to the world. That proud Canadian attitude did not really show through in the movie.

I am probably just being critical of the movie because this is a Literature of Canada course that I am reading this for, and of course I am looking for Canadian-ness. The book is not about Canada as a country, it is just the background setting, the main story is about love, loss and life in general. I guess it is a good thing that the movie takes a subtle approach to Canadian-ness. In a way it is showing how Canada really acts. We are not a country that is always in the new, shouting at the top of our lungs for attention, so by panning down the street subtly showing a Tim Horton’s the movie is actually showing the nature of Canada. So I started this blog thinking that the film version had little to show of Canadian-ness and ended thinking it really did show Canadian-ness. It’s odd how much can change in a few sentences.

I also felt in the novel that there was a slight struggle between French and English Canada that was not shown in the movie. Barney every once and a while showed placed in little quotes of French or little French sayings. With the constant struggle between French-Canada and English-Canada during the time that the events are to take place, it makes sense that even in his writing Barney (and Richler) might also show the struggle of a ‘bilingual’ country that is dominated by English-speakers. It is almost as if Barney/ Richler is trying to please all Canadians by having his writing in English, but also allowing his character to speak in French, to allow that French-speakers to have a voice. According to a census in 1996, around the time that Richler wrote Barney’s Version there was approximately 60% of Canadians stated that their mother tongue was English with only 24% saying French was their mother tongue. Barney’s version is no where near 24% French, but you can see that the majority of the novel is English and the struggle for the French to be seen through it.

MON treal, not yours

by Joyce Lin

“Irv, bless him, was angst-ridden about the fate of our people, but uppermost in his mind was the coming referendum. Only yesterday The Weasel’s most rabid pointman had warned les autres that if we voted No massively we would be punished. ‘That’s good news’, said Irv, ‘because that prick must have started at least another thousand nervy Jews packing. I’m grateful. Now if only they’d opt for Tel Aviv rather than Toronto or Vancouver…

Remember how when we were young the pepsis (slang for French Canadians) marched down the Main chanting ‘Death to the Jews’, and Le Devoir read like it got its ideas from Julius Streicher? Do you recall how in those days there were all those restricted hotels in the Laurentians, and a Jew couldn’t even get a job as a cashier in one of the banks here, never mind marry out. Like damn fools we complained about it. We fought discrimination bitterly. But, with hindsight, it was a blessing, anti-Semitism, if you feel as deeply as I do about Israel and Jewish survival…

The lasting problem with the Holocaust is that it made anti-Semitism unfashionable.” Barney’s Version, pg 203

In other words, conflict causes friction in the forms of dialogue (or, heated debates, if you will), disagreement and protests. While under most circumstances most people would try to avoid these things, friction, nonetheless has the energy to drive the momentum for existence and not disappearance. As Irv goes further to say, “Listen here, my old friend, we didn’t survive Hitler so that our children could assimilate and the Jewish people disappear” (pg 203).

Barney’s Version, in many of the reviews I have found online, is often seen as a mirror through which Mordecai Richler (the author) reflects on his own life. Like Richler, Barney is a Jewish Canadian and Montreal native. In this novel, Richler explores the survival of the Jewish community in Montreal which itself is sitting in a chaotic imbalance between French and Anglophone Canada.

Richler’s position is more fully expressed in his other work, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country but in short, even in Quebec today, a little past a decade after Richler’s death, he is still a controversial character for his outspoken ideas against Quebec nationalism.

In many ways, Irv’s reflection on “unfashionable anti-Semitism” as the cause of disappearing Jewish culture suggests to me Richler’s perspective on Quebec sovereignty. Perhaps he goes as far to say that the debate is “the western world’s goofiest and most unnecessary political crisis” because it is unnecessarily political. I think just as Irv supports the survival of the Jewish culture and community by opposing full assimilation, Richler is not necessarily against the French vs. Anglophone debate but more so the political frame this issue has evolved to. Being an immigrant to Canada himself, I believe Richler (or I would like to believe…) understands the importance of keeping a distinguishable “ethnic” culture alive in a “foreign” environment. Furthermore, I think he may be suggesting that if nationalism wasn’t the focus of the issue, much more could be done in preserving and developing the French culture in not only Montreal but the rest of Canada.

Why does everything have to do with politics, anyway?

This week we began the discussion on multiculturalism and how the push to establish it as a “Canadian value” began partly as a solution to the French vs. Anglophone Canada debate. You know why everything has to do with politics at the end of the day? Power.

No matter how many cultures you recognize and welcome to practice freely in a “free country”, there will always be one leader. Multiculturalism in Canada I would say, if I had to pick between yay or nay, is a merit. I think it fosters at the very least, an awareness and to have respect for different cultures. However, it is also problematic and in the perspective of politics, it has a lot to do with the fact that English is still the dominant language even though we are “bilingual”. And of course, language has so much to do with culture (ex. communication, arts, pop culture, etc). Standardization and systems make governments, among many other things, run effectively. Having a government that conducts parliament in multiple languages will not work. So Christmas, Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving, et cetera are our national holidays but not all the other holidays celebrated by the minorities in this country. What I’m saying is, you can try to be multicultural but there it has a limit.

Closely linked to these ideas is racism. Richler has been called lots of nasty names for his ideas and even a racist. You know what, racism and calling someone a racist is too easy a way out to vent your anger at perspectives that are in conflict with your own.

I live in Richmond, the suburb of Vancouver where the highest concentration of Chinese immigrants can now be found in the whole Canada according to this article from the Vancouver Sun. In popular discourses, Richmond is “racist” to all non-Chinese people. In this particular article that I encourage you guys to look at, the argument is that for stores in Richmond not to put any English words up on their signs, the English language’s survival is being threatened. The article does not say Richmond is racist but honestly, it’s not something I haven’t heard of.

What IS racism?! Get it straight first:

from (


 [rey-siz-uhm] Show IPA


1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among thevarious human races determine cultural or

individualachievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own raceis superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon orfostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3.hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Feeling out of place because signs in Richmond do not have English on it is NOT racism. Not understanding the language that people around you are speaking is NOT racism. Going to malls only to find that the products available do not meet your needs as a consumer is NOT racism…
It is simply results of the fact that the majority population is Chinese and that is a fact with consequences nobody can stop…
Seems like I’m digressing but no, seriously, thinking about Richler and Quebec just reminded me of the struggle in my own community. I feel bad for Richler. Although I haven’t read much about what he actually said that so many thought was “anti-Quebec”, I can kind of understand where he is coming from. I just think people have to be more careful about labelling someone as a racist and being aware of whether they are actually displaying “hatred or intolerance of another race” or it’s just simply YOU find different views intolerable yourself.