Richler, Mordecai

Richler, Mordecai
born Jan. 27, 1931, Montreal, Que., Can.
died July 3, 2001, Montreal

Canadian novelist.

He grew up in a Jewish working-class neighbourhood in which many of his novels are set. In 1951–52 he lived in Paris, where he was influenced by existentialism; he later lived in England. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) is a bawdy account of a Jewish boy in Montreal and his transformation into a ruthless businessman. His later novels include Joshua Then and Now (1980) and Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989). He also wrote children's books featuring the character Jacob Two-Two.

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▪ 2002

      Canadian writer (b. Jan. 27, 1931, Montreal, Que.—d. July 3, 2001, Montreal), was celebrated for his vivid, boldly satiric portraits of the haves and have-nots of his native Quebec. His wickedly acerbic novels and essays often garnered outrage from offended parties (of which there were many) while consistently earning him critical acclaim. Born the son of a Jewish scrap-metal merchant in the largely Francophone province of Quebec, Richler considered himself “a minority within a minority” and continually returned to the examination of his experiences as such in his writings. After two years of study at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Richler abandoned school to cultivate his dream of becoming a novelist and moved to Paris. His first novel, The Acrobats (1954), told the story of disillusioned expatriates in Spain à la Ernest Hemingway; Richler subsequently disowned this book owing to its lack of maturity. He spent the next several years in London, where he continued to produce novels and work as a freelance for various media publications. His first major recognition came with the publication of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), a coming-of-age story of a shrewd, street-smart young Jewish man making a way for himself in postwar Montreal; a literary success before it became a commercial one, the novel was made into a major motion picture in 1974. The film's screenplay (written by Richler) was nominated for an Academy Award. His next book to win critical acclaim was Cocksure (1968), a racy portrait of life in 1960s London; though banned in some places, it won the Canadian Governor General's Award. Richler won that award a second time for St. Urbain's Horseman (1971). That book was also short-listed for the Booker Prize, as was a later book, Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989). In 1972 Richler moved back to Montreal with a wife and children in tow; his popular children's books chronicling the adventures of Jacob Two-Two developed out of the stories Richler made up to entertain his own children. Richler remained primarily in Montreal for the rest of his life, continuing simultaneously to delight and dismay in fiction and in fact. He contributed essays on various political concerns to leading publications and was most notably a stringent opponent of Quebec's anti-English language laws. His last book of fiction, Barney's Version, appeared in 1997, and Mordecai Richler on Snooker was published posthumously.

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▪ Canadian novelist
born January 27, 1931, Montreal, Canada
died July 3, 2001, Montreal
 prominent Canadian novelist whose incisive and penetrating works explore fundamental human dilemmas and values.

      Richler attended Sir George Williams University, Montreal (1950–51), then lived in Paris (1951–52), where he was influenced and stimulated by Existentialist authors. Returning to Canada (1952), Richler published the novel The Acrobats (1954). Set in Spain, it deals with the experiences of a young Canadian painter with a group of disillusioned expatriates and revolutionaries. Shortly afterward, Richler settled in England. He returned to Montreal in the 1970s. His subsequent novels, which manifest evidence of the poverty and anti-Semitism he experienced during his early years, include Son of a Smaller Hero (1955) and A Choice of Enemies (1957), both dealing with angry, confused modern heroes; The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), a bawdy and sometimes farcical account of a Jewish boy in Montreal and his transformation into a ruthless and amoral businessman, which was made into a film from his screenplay in 1974; and The Incomparable Atuk (1963), which contains amusing descriptions of the powerful men who control the communications industries. Cocksure (1968) is concerned with an American attempt to take over a British publishing house. St. Urbain's Horsemen (1971) concerns a Canadian director's trial for sodomy and assault in London. Richler's books, which were noted for their honesty and biting satire, often caused much controversy. Other works include a collection of humorous essays, Notes on an Endangered Species and Others (1974); a children's book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975); and the novels Joshua Then and Now (1980), Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989), and Barney's Version (1998). Richler was awarded the Order of Canada in 1999.

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Universalium. 2010.

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