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Richler, Mordecai

jewish barney lived novels

(Canadian, 1931–2001)

Born in Montreal, Richler was often regarded as a black humorist, but his novels have a far greater range and depth of social commentary than that term implies. He both celebrated and satirized the Jewish experience in Canada, and his work is full of pungently funny dialogue and politically incorrect observations. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), described by its author as the adventures of a teenage, working-class Jewish kid on the make in Montreal around 1949, is a modern classic. Duddy's rise and fall in business, as he schemes to buy land and exploits everyone around him, is rendered with both comedy and pathos; he encounters anti-Semitism and Jewish chauvinism. Richler lived in London during the 1960s, producing The Incomparable Atuk (1963), in which an Eskimo poet becomes a short-lived media celebrity, and Cocksure (1968), featuring a mysterious, surgically enhanced tycoon. Both are short novels with a gallery of outlandish types and numerous satirical targets. Richler's fascination with Jewish-Canadian entrepreneurs resulted eventually in larger-scale works; Solomon Gursky was Here (1989) tells the story of the Gurskys from the 1850s onward against the background of Canada's development as a nation. His later novel, Barney's Version (1997), is structured around the three marriages of Barney Panofsky, a television producer with Alzheimer's disease. It manages to be both poignant and—as when Barney leaves his own wedding reception to pursue another woman—wildly funny.

Philip Roth, Joseph Heller  JS

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