canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

On Richler
Mordecai Richler (1931-2001). One of Canada's best writers. Ever. He was always admired, if not always well loved.

TDR solicited a number of writers to tell us what they liked or disliked about Richler's work, and why. One respondent turned us down, saying: "Can't really bring myself to write about him. I think his cultural criticism was disturbing, his prose uninteresting, and his columns hackery." We were fine with that, since it seemed to us that Richler always respected strong opinions - even if he disagreed with them. Others agreed to send stuff, and they have. We hope you enjoy it.

Something to add? Send it to us at, and we'll add your Richler comments to the list.

Marc Ponomareff The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Lyle Neff Solomon Gursky Was Here
Nathaniel G. Moore Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang
David Zakss The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (the film)
Sue Bowness Dear Mordecai

Marc Ponomareff, Toronto - The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

One of Mordecai Richler’s credos was that a writer has the moral responsibility to be the "loser’s advocate": that he could stay true to this, while provoking mirth in his readers, is but one facet of his considerable talent. My favourite book from him, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, starts out as a hilarious, coming-of-age tale, then becomes progressively more grim until a note of overwhelming sadness is attained. The mixture of admiration and disdain on the part of the author for Duddy is highly intriguing; unforgettable, too, are the bravura, modernist set-pieces/sub-sections (ahead of their time, where Can. Lit. is concerned): ‘The March of the Fletcher’s Cadets’, ‘Commencement’, ‘The Screening’, and the facsimile of Virgil’s magazine ‘The Crusader’ - "The Only Magazine in the World Published by Epileptics For Epileptics." Slyly, Richler has even put himself into the book, as the character Hersh - which always puts me in mind of Joyce traveling ‘incognito’ through one of his own novels as the "Man in the Macintosh."

An earlier character of Richler’s, Noah Adler, tells his grandfather "I am going and I’m not going." This could be a fitting epitaph for a unique, Canadian writer who has passed on, yet who is destined to live on through the medium of his books.

Lyle Neff, Vancouver - Solomon Gursky Was Here

Solomon Gursky Was Here was Mordecai Richler's finest achievement, even considering his many other big, satisfying novels. Like much of what he accomplished, it was rather overlooked, probably due to his cantankerous political views. His politics aren't exactly submerged in this epic story either. He slips a knife into English Canadian mythology with the excruciatingly-prissy government agent Bert Smith, on the one hand. On the other, the Bernard Landrys of the world can't have been happy with the riotous scene of a PQ tongue-trooper getting stomped at an Eastern Townships barbecue. As always, whatever belief the man was attacking, he did it with glee.

But consider the book as a whole: it's a marvel of black comedy and deep seriousness. This is the novel English Canada was supposedly looking for. There's its enigmatic central figure, a Jewish warlord somehow descending from the North ("Where north? Far.") with a flock of mystical Inuit and dangerous ravens; there's John Franklin and his Royal Navy lads; there are lengthy, merciless satires on poet A.M. Klein and the whole Bronfman booze dynasty. There is a good deal of useful mercilessness in this superb book, in fact. Let's not neglect its brilliant shiftings of episode, chronology and point of view either. It's one of the greatest Canadian novels ever.

Nathaniel G. Moore, Toronto - Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang

My first memory of Mordecai Richler was in Grade Four at Northlea Public School in East York. We had two novels that year to read, Billy and the Bubble Ship by Elwy Yost, and Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang by Richler. We were to read both books and in class we were to write to both authors, explaining our thoughts on both books. This was odd because this past year I watched a documentary on Richler which showed little kids writing crappy letters to him. They asked dumb but cute questions and he likely did really mean things to the letters after a few drinks but the point is there was a hierarchy. Of course Mordecai never replied to us, but Mr. Yost did, in fact he came into our class and read a bit of his book. A bunch of us told him we liked his book a lot and it was as good as Jacob Two-Two and I distinctly remember Elwy Yost saying that Richler was in a different league than he, that Richler was the best in Canada. So from what I remember of grade four, even other writers were afraid of him. Anyway this cemented him in my head as someone special in the Canlit mafia. It seems to me that Richler was the Al Capone of the literary crafts in Canada.

David Zakss, Toronto - The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (the film)

As someone who has taken a four-year BA in the legendarily useless Innis College film program at the Universality of Gee Tee Eh, but never disgraced that inutility by ever once working in the film industry, I feel imminently qualified (any day now, any decade now) to comment on the binary complex which was the book and the film of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

The film of the Richler novel shocked me - that something could be so similar yet so different. I watched the movie with the novel tattooed on my mind. It had been read in one those kinds of moods, of immersion, of a childhood room, of turning me into the whole spirit of whatever could be outside the window. Then the film added something alien. I, impossibly, expected it to be just the way it appeared to me when I read the novel. At first, it seemed like it could even reach that impossible transference. However, the first anomalies hit like the start of a meteor shower. Could Richard Dreyfuss really be Duddy?

Never again would I feel that shock of adaptation. One of my favourite courses in film was called "Narrative Into Film", and every film was compared with the novel it was taken from, but none of them gave me the re-recognition process I experienced with Richler's adaptation of his own novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Sue Bowness, Toronto

One of Mordecai Richler's most memorable books for me was St. Urbain's Horseman, not necessarily because it was my favourite but because half way through it I decided I would write to him. It was grade 13 and I was ploughing through his novels and his political writing as I prepared to give a final report on his work for my CanLit independent study. Suddenly it occurred to me that I should write to him and ask him to come and speak to my class about writing; after all, Montreal was only just over an hour away from our little high school in Eastern Ontario and I was spending a lot of time studying his work. Maybe he could do something for me. I told my English teacher about the plan, who was supportive but skeptical. Then I wrote the first letter, telling Mr. Richler how much I was enjoying his work, how I myself was also interested in writing and if he couldn't come and speak with our class, could he at least reply to my letter and answer my questions about "being a writer". 

It was the first of three letters I would write over the next few months, the third being a holiday card that I sent in December, priding myself for my cultural sensitivity in not sending him a Christmas card. Still I heard nothing, but for the occasional rib from my classmates or my teacher asking if I had 'heard from Mordecai' yet. Finally it was two days before the end of class, I had already done my report sans Mordecai, when I came home to a rare airmail letter from London, England with my name carefully typed onto the envelope, an envelope that I would carry triumphantly into CanLit class the next day. I opened it and a card fell out with a couple of rows of typing that started with "Dear Ms Bowness", and ended with a scrawly signature: Mordecai Richler.








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