Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

the man who took too many steps on Sabbath. Faced a desolation
which was unheroic” (p. 82). His lyrical secular Hasidism ob­
serves ritual in the absence of arks and altars; if he sifts for
meaning among his city’s detritus, he also reaches for Montreal’s
spice-box of earth for a sublime vision.
Klein, Layton, Richler, and Cohen have captured those un­
heroic beautiful losers of a particular time and place. As con­
fined as Montreal’s ghetto appeared around the middle of the
century, these Jewish tragicomedians transcended the sur­
rounding French and English walls. Only twenty years separate
Klein’s pre-modern “Jewboy” dreaming pavement into Bible-
land from Cohen’s postmodern “New Jew” who is “the founder
o f Magic Canada , Magic French Quebec, and Magic
America. . . He confirms tradition through amnesia, tempting
the whole world with rebirth. He dissolves history and ritual
by accepting unconditionally the complete heritage” (p. 161).
Montreal’s rite of passage begins with Klein’s memory and ends
with Cohen’s mystical, subversive amnesia, and in between lies
a rich body of poetry and fiction.2
As fertile as Montreal has been in its creative literary pro­
duction, Toronto has remained relatively unsung.3One has to
look to the prairies for the other pole of Canadian-Jewish lit­
erature — namely Winnipeg, where Adele Wiseman’s and Jack
Ludwig’s fiction and Miriam Waddington’s poetry balance Mon­
treal’s writing.
Another lone voice on the prairies belongs to Henry Kreisel
who fled to Vienna just before the
Kreisel’s two novels
deal with aspects of the Holocaust. In
The Rich Man
(1948; 1961)
Jacob Grossman returns to visit his family in Vienna just before
the war, but is unable to help them avoid their tragic fate for
they are under the illusion that their relative has succeeded in
Canada when in reality he is an impoverished laborer. In
(1964; 1971) Kreisel shifts to Western Canada after the
2. There is no room in this brief survey to consider francophone Jewish writers
such as Monique Bosco and Naim Kattan. See Greenstein, 1989: pp. 161-85.
3. The writing o f Phyllis Gotlieb and Helen Weinzweig fall outside the domain
o f this study, for their artistic concerns transcend any sociological statement
about Toronto.