A novelist that many Canadian Jews loved to hate.
Forever a Satirist
Richler wrote some of the funniest vignettes in modern literature, such as in Solomon Gursky Was Here, a novel loosely based on the billionaire Bronfman family of Seagram's whiskey empire. In a flashback, the founder of the family, stranded in the Arctic, persuades Eskimos to become Jews. Alas, the tiny band is driven to near starvation when the converts refuse to eat on Yom Kippur--with sunset not to come for many months.
In St. Urbain's Horseman, the protagonist, Jake Hersh, returns to Montreal from the U.K. for the funeral and shiva of his father. Richler's description of Hersh's Montreal Jewish is a paragon of comedic insight:
He felt cradled, not deprived. He also felt like Rip Van Winkle returned to an innocent and ordered world he had mistakenly believed long extinct, where God watched over all, doing His sums. Where everything fit--even the Holocaust, which after all, had yielded the State of Israel. . . . Where smack was not habit-forming but what a disrespectful child deserved; pot was what you simmered the chicken soup in; and camp was where you sent the boys for the summer. . . .
Aunts still phoned each other every morning to say what sort of cake they were baking. Who had passed this exam, who had survived the operation. A scandal was when a first cousin was invited to the bar mitzvah kiddush, but not the dinner. Eloquence was the rabbi's sermon. They were ignorant of the arts, they were over dressed, they were overstuffed, and their taste was appallingly bad. But within their self-contained world, there was order. It worked.
Most of Richler's writing “worked” as well, on the page and for the bottom line of his happy publishers. At the time of his death, the long-time scourge of his fellow Jews and those of his countrymen whom he had also mocked, mourned the loss of a man whom they had come to recognize as one of their finest and most gifted authors and humorists. He understood the meaning and power of satire, and one senses that his finest novels will be read, and enjoyed, by readers around the world for decades to come.
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