Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
immediate post-war years that the original imm igran t ne igh ­
borhoods were abandoned for more a fflu en t su rround ing s in the
city’s west end and the newly constructed suburbs. With few
exceptions, Rich ler’s novels are centred on a p rotagon ist who is
the product o f the old “ghetto” district but by virtue o f p ro fe s­
sional success is now forced to contemplate his presen t status in
contrast to a rem em bered past. T h e jux tapo s ition o f past and
present looms large in Richler’s imagination and the alteration o f
domicile fo r the Jew s gives rise to a d istu rb ing set o f moral
judgem en ts . For it was precisely du r ing the years o f Eu ropean
Jew ry ’s destruction that the local community marked its greatest
social and economic advances. Th is troub ling coincidence fu r ­
nishes the central mo tif for his Fiction, the astringent point o f view
from which his Jew ish characters are described and evaluated.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) is written in the rea lis­
tic mode and belongs to the literature o f expose , which some years
earlier had given us sensational novels like Weidman’s / Can Get It
For You Wholesale and Schu lberg ’s What Makes Sammy R u n ? In
Richler’s version the uncouth energetic hero is lauded fo r the
breathtaking chutzpah with which he d em ands his place in the sun,
battling the hypocricy o f e ffete middle-class relatives in add ition
to his own dem and ing appetites, but finally failing because he is
unable to harness his bound less nerve to any pu rpo se h igher than
material aggrand izem en t. Significantly, Richler uses the f igu re o f
an old-world imm igran t grand fa th e r to repre sen t the coveted
spiritual ideal which remains unattainable to the asp ir ing p ro ­
tagonist.
In St. Urbains Horseman (1971) and Joshua Then and N ow (1980)
style, method and narrative sequence are more adven tu rou s,
unrestrained and complex. In each novel a troubled hero is
haunted by recollections o f person s and places in which his
d e ep e s t fee lin g s a re an cho red d e sp ite su r ro u n d in g s which
should provide well-being and satisfaction. Instead , the improved
material conditions are sensed as morally dim in ishing in com ­
parison to the heroism which inhered in the past; the present-day
ease and com fort p roduce s only a bad conscience.
St. Urbain's Horseman, Richler’s most accomplished work, e x ­
p lores all aspects o f this theme by prov id ing his hero, a successful
TV director now re sid ing in fash ionable London , with a fixation
fo r the fantastic life o f his cousin, the mythic H orsem an . In
contrast to the h e ro ’s life which has con form ed to the well-worn