National Treasure #102: Mordechai Richler

Mordechai Richler published 10 novels, 3 books for kids (Jacob Two-Two, anyone?), a collection of short stories, 2 travel books, essays, and screenplays. He won the Governor-General’s Award (twice), the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour (among others), and received several honorary doctorates.  

Like Stuart McLean, Richler was a Canadian storyteller, but one of considerably different personality.

His instincts were to ask hard, uncomfortable questions and to take clear, often unpopular moral positions.  Born into an Orthodox family in Montréal’s old Jewish neighborhood, a community he immortalized in his work, he was from the start a complex and uncompromising figure, at once rejecting many of the formal tenets of his faith while embracing its intellectual and ethical rigour. That tension, along with an innately absurdist vision of life, a raw, bracing comedic sensibility, and a fearlessness about speaking his mind, as both artist and citizen, ensured that nearly every word he published displayed a distinctive sensibility. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Since publishing the book this fall, he has discovered during various interviews and Richler-related events just how deep-seated the old antipathies remain, both among the Quebec nationalists whose project Richler savaged so effectively and among fellow Jews who saw him as a renegade exposing his community to the ridicule of anti-Semites.

Richler likewise offends contemporary literary sensibilities, according to Foran, especially what he considers to be the “pinched and ahistorical and impoverished notion of literature” that currently rules the academy. “More and more we want our novels – even those novels taught at the university level – to have simple and clear, preferably progressive thematic concerns,” he says. “They have to relate to progressive politics, they have to relate to social justice. What are these words doing mixed up with literature?” – Globe and Mail

As summed up by the inestimable Rex Murphy in his on-air eulogy, “He (Richler) gave the art of being Canadian the bite and savour it so sorely needed.”

Rex Murphy’s Full Farewell to Mordechai Richler

Other Eulogies

Posthumous article on Mordechai’s difficult relationship with his mother

 

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2 Comments

  1. Wade

    Having enjoyed many Richler books over the years I felt that he reached his absolute peak with Barneys Version. His very effective broadsides taken at the Quebec Nationalists, the CRTC and CBC were enjoyable and for me it was a laugh out loud reading. I raise a glass of Macallan in his memory.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Wade – The movie was certainly great. Until writing this piece, I didn’t realize that the story about Barney meeting the love of his life on his wedding eve (not his bride) was autobiographical. Richler later married the woman he met that evening. Cheers!

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