Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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Urbain is transformed into the knight of Fleet Street on a post-
Holocaust crusade.
A decade later, Richler returns to Canada in
Joshua Then and
(1980) with Joshua Shapiro taking over from Jake Hersh.
The novel traces the comic transformations from then to now,
from nobody’s past to somebody’s present, for Josh has indeed
“made it” to the heights of Westmount and a country estate
in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Initially Joshua was taken for
an interloper on the lake but later his father and father-in-law
protect him from other trespassers looking for the celebrated
Canadian-Jewish sports columnist, television personality, and
author. In the Canadian-Jewish coming of age between “then”
and “now” Richler depicts his protagonist’s humanist values that
include an emphasis on family, friends, and a sense of history.
This historical sense, in turn, includes the use of the Holocaust
as a tragic moral touchstone, the fight against fascism in the
Spanish civil war, and Canadian anti-Semitism. Indeed, Richler’s
self-assured satire is a clear sign of a shift in power within his
community: he is able to skewer the pretensions of the Canadian
WASP establishment as well as the Jewish
who try to
bury their ghetto roots. Spiritual loss accompanies materialistic
gain in the long haul from St. Urbain to Westmount.
Richler’s latest novel,
Solomon Gursky Was Here
(1989), mythol­
ogizes Canadian-Jewish history with a broad sweep that incor­
porates in a veiled manner the Bronfman dynasty and A.M.
Klein. In other words, he re-examines the archetypal relation­
ship between the powerful businessman and the alienated artist.
For all the gains made by Canadian Jews nearing the end of
the century, the novelist returns to origins around mid-century,
the tarnished silver age of Canadian-Jewish literature. During
the half century of fictional development in technique, there
is a counter-movement or
that renders all the gains am­
bivalent at best. The tensions between parochialism and cosmo­
politanism, Hebraic moralism and Hellenic hedonism, primitiv­
ism and postmodernism, linger.
Where Richler, Layton, and Klein originate in Montreal’s
ghetto and look upward at Mount Royal, Leonard Cohen de­
scends from Westmount to reverse the vertical mosaic. Like