Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
pared to the one south o f the 49th parallel. A no ther explanation
may be found in the relatively belated arrival o f Jewish writing
in Canada, whereas by the tu rn o f the cen tury in the United
States Emma Lazarus’s words were already welcoming immi­
grants to the Statue o f Liberty. Indeed , two p ronounced em ­
blems on the landscape symbolize the distinction between the
American melting pot and the Montreal mosaic: the Statue o f
Liberty and the Cross atop Mount Royal. Early arrivals to Ellis
Island were g ree ted by Emma Lazarus’s poetic vision o f free­
dom, and then whisked into the faster lane o f American assim­
ilation. Later imm igrants to Montreal raised the ir eyes to behold
a brigh t crucifix which could only rem ind them o f the Eu ropean
persecutions they though t they had left behind.
In spite of, perhaps because of, these impediments Mordecai
Richler managed to create an impressive body o f work tha t im­
mortalizes Montreal’s Jewish community in the second ha lf o f
ou r century. His early novel,
Son of a Smaller Hero
(1955; 1977)
traces the deve lopment o f its protagonist Noah Adler (and by
extension the progress o f the en tire Jewish community o f Mon­
treal) from a perspective tha t is at once satiric, tragicomic, and
mythic. T h e novel opens with Noah studying the walls o f his
apa r tm en t where a cross used to hang. From those walls tha t
hem Noah in, Richler shifts to a pic ture o f Montreal’s ghetto
hemmed in between the two solitudes — French to the east,
English to the west. In the process o f acculturation o r break ing
down these walls, Richler’s Jews may con fron t a Canadian void
on the o the r side; or, like Noah, they may find mean ing in
a world without illusions where tru th coexists among Jewish
history, moral values, the beauty o f m ode rn cu lture, and the
Canadian landscape.
TOWARDS AFFIRMATION
Noah’s appren ticesh ip from nobody to Everyman requ ires a
movement away from nay-saying alienation to an affirmation
o f positive values in the world around him. By the end o f the
novel Noah discovers tru th in the innocen t beauty o f the Lau-
rentians, Vivaldi’s
The Four Seasons
and the seasonal changes
in the novel’s struc tu re , the freedom to define himself inde­
penden tly o f others, political discussion with the communist
Panofsky, and the exposure o f the lies su r round ing members