Mordecai Richler, writer, essayist, satirist (born at Montréal 27 Jan 1931; died at Montréal 3 Jul 2001). One of Canada's foremost novelists, a controversial and prolific journalist, and an occasional scriptwriter, Richler grew up on St. Urbain Street in MONTRÉAL's Mile End neighbourhood, and was educated at Sir George Williams College (CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY), Montréal. After a 2-year stay in Paris and Spain (1951-52), he took up residence in England in 1954, returning to live in Montréal in 1972. Richler securely established himself as an accomplished novelist with the publication of THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1959). A scintillating portrait of a young Montréal-Jewish entrepreneur, the novel is characterized by an energizing authorial ambivalence and a contrast between the comic and the pathetic, by rich dramatic scenes, by a lively narrative pace, and by a comprehensive depiction of the protagonist as Montréaler, Jew and individual. Richler's earlier novels, The Acrobats (1954), Son of a Smaller Hero (1955) and A Choice of Enemies (1957), are essentially apprenticeship pieces portraying young, intense protagonists absorbed with finding proper values in a corrupt world.
Richler's considerable wit is displayed in The Incomparable Atuk (1963), a zany piece on authenticity, corruption and Canadian nationalism; in his short stories and memoirs in The Street (1969); and in Cocksure (1968, GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD, Fiction and Essays), a comical-satirical account of the difficulty of adhering to traditional values in a world gone mad. St Urbain's Horseman (1971, Governor General's Literary Award, Fiction) and Joshua Then and Now (1980) are ambitiously conceived novels that incorporate and go beyond the settings, characters and concerns of the preceding novels. St Urbain's Horseman examines the personal, professional and ethnic conflicts of 37-year-old director Jake Hersh, who, Richler has stated, is "closer to me than anybody else."Joshua Then and Now employs a complex pattern of flashbacks to explore the possessive nature of the past, the ironical inversions caused by the passage of time, and the sad aspects of mutability. These themes are also pursued in Solomon Gursky Was Here, which spans two hundred years in the history of the fictional Gursky dynasty of bootleggers, adventurers and magnates (1989; Commonwealth Writers' Prize, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize). Barney's Version (1997; GILLER PRIZE, STEPHEN LEACOCK MEMORIAL MEDAL FOR HUMOUR) presents another of Richler's comically despicable characters, as he reflects on his life and the possibility of repentance. Richler has also published works for children: Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975), Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur (1987), and Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case (1995), 3 hilarious children's novels, tell of the difficulties experienced by the young child in an adult world.
Mordecai Richler published hundreds of journalistic pieces in a wide range of publications in Canada, the US and Britain, including columns in the NATIONAL POST and the MONTREAL GAZETTE. He published selections in Hunting Tigers Under Glass (1968, Governor General's Literary Award, Fiction and Essays), Shovelling Trouble (1972), Notes on an Endangered Species (1974), The Great Comic Book Heroes (1978), Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album (1984), Broadsides (1991) and Belling the Cat (1998). A lifelong sports fan, he published essays devoted to sport in 2002's Dispatches from the Sporting Life, and his last book was On Snooker (2001), a loving look at the game and the characters associated with it. He also wrote an extended foreword to accompany Peter Christopher's photographs in Images of Spain (1977), and the travel memoir This Year in Jerusalem (1994). As an anthologist, his works include The Best of Modern Humour (1986), Writers on World War II (1991), and The Penguin Book of Literary Feuds and Insults (1995).
As a satirist, Mordecai Richler was often a controversial figure, insistent upon interrogating the people, cultures and values surrounding him, exposing their hypocrisies and foibles with wit and passion. One of Canada's best-known writers, he criticized the Canadian literary establishment for its reliance on government funding and what he saw as an often parochial, narrow scope. A member of Montreal's JEWISH community, he created portraits of it that alternate between affection and ridicule, adding his distinctive voice to the tradition of self-reflective JEWISH WRITING in North America crafted by contemporaries like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. An often stinging opponent of both Canadian and Quebecois nationalism throughout his lifetime, he published Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country in 1992.
Just as the worlds of film and television production often appear within his novels, Richler's work has frequently been adapted for those media. Richler wrote the screenplays for the film adaptations of his novels THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1974; co-written with Lionel Chetwynd; nominated for an Academy Award) and Joshua Then and Now (1985), both directed by Richler's friend Ted Kotcheff. Richler also contributed to the adaptation of St. Urbain's Horseman (2007) as a television miniseries. Richler was working on a script for BARNEY'S VERSION when he died; the film appeared in 2010, winning several GENIE AWARDS and Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards. Earlier in his career, Richler also wrote scripts for Life at the Top (1965) and Fun with Dick and Jane (1977; co-written with Jerry Belson and David Giler). His children's book Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang was made into a movie in 1999.
Mordecai Richler's many awards include 3 Governor General's Literary Awards (2 in 1968, 1 in 1971), the Scotiabank Giller Prize (1997), the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (1998), the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (1990; 1998 Canada and the Caribbean), and a Screenwriters Guild of America Award (1974). His writing for children earned him the CLA Book of the Year for Children (1976), the Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award (1976), and the Mr. Christie's Book Award (1995). Richler was made a Companion of the ORDER OF CANADA in 2001, shortly before his death.