Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

his Canadian-Jewish quest. Overlooking his lake, this adolescent
for all seasons imagines a future of gambling with a roulette
wheel going round and round, a baby screaming for its mother,
and a time bomb ticking in his head — all emblems o f an in­
secure past and an equally insecure future. A scheming Kravitz
may laugh at the end of the novel but his smile is bittersweet.
On the road to recognition, Duddy exposes the foibles of his
people and the often difficult relationships among Jews, French
Canadians, and Montreal’s WASP Establishment. Also en route,
Richler’s unfailing ear for running dialogue captures the nu­
ances of Canadian-Jewish tragicomedy, of a language in tran­
sition from Yiddish roots to Canadian accents.
With the publication of
St. Urbain’s Horseman
(1971) Richler
takes a grand leap out of Montreal’s ghetto toward a cosmo­
politan diaspora, relying on a mythical background to avenge
the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. For all of its stylistic exper­
imentation, allusiveness, cinematic techniques, and surrealistic
time frames,
St. Urbain’s Horseman
harks back to the basic ar­
chetype of
The Second Scroll
with Cousin Joey instead of Uncle
Melech as the object of the Canadian-Jewish search for meaning.
Protagonist Jake Hersh looks for Cousin Joey (the avenging
mythical horseman) who in turn seeks out the Nazi Dr. Josef
Mengele. The quest of nobody for Horseman takes place against
the backdrop of a London courtroom which serves as a met­
aphor for the trial of Everyman after Auschwitz. Richler’s tech­
nical advances combined with his complex subject reflect a grow­
ing sophistication in his own fiction and in the maturing of the
society he describes.
Abroad, the Canadian Jew reaches into his “Jewish allsorts
bag” to pull out tales about Rabbi Akiba, the Thirty-six Just
Men, Maimonides, the Golem, Trumpeldor, and Leon Trotsky.
Richler’s comic wit puts Western civilization on trial and takes
revenge on Anglo-Saxon pretensions. By setting his novel over­
seas, he is better able to explore his dual heritage beyond any
Canadian parochialism, and demonstrate the extent to which
Canadian-Jewish fiction has come of age in challenging Eng­
land’s Great Tradition. In one generation the peddler from St.