Satire mocks our foibles and urges us to correct them. And it’s hard to be grateful. Canadian satirical novelist, scriptwriter, and essayist Mordecai Richler often elicited rage from his favorite targets–fellow Jews and the French Canadians among whom he was born and raised. Reading Richler’s books, his critics usually felt anger, hurt, embarrassment, and a longing that he would simply shut up and go away. He finally did, when he died in 2001 at the age of 70.
Richler was, more often than not, a challenging, memorable, amusing, even laugh-out-loud writer. And despite their misgivings, most Canadian Jews have grown proud to have produced Richler, the man and the writer. His books continue to sell well both at home and abroad, many of them taught in high schools and universities around the world.
Over his nearly half-century of creative writing, Richler won several Governor General’s Literary Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize), many honors for his wonderfully witty children’s book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975), and the Screenwriter’s Guild of America Award for Best Comedy for his Oscar-nominated screenplay of his best-known novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959). He achieved fame in Canada and beyond for his world-class novels: Duddy Kravitz, of course, as well as St. Urbain’s Horseman (1971), Joshua Then and Now (1980), Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989), Barney’s Version (1979), and his exquisite collection of autobiographical stories, The Street (1969).
Richler, the grandson of a rabbi and son of an unsuccessful junk dealer, spent his youth in the 1930s and 40s in Canada, in the giant shadow of its dominant neighbor to the south, the United States, struggling against anti-Semitic French-speaking Catholics and White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. He was, in many ways, more of an outsider than merely being a Jew in a Christian world like most Americans, due to the additional fact of the French-speaking majority of his native Canadian province.