This is the continuation of my series on Canada 150; we look at Mordecai Richler, a writer of extraordinary talent and insight.
Extraordinary Canadians (S1; E10): M.G. Vassanji on Mordecai Richler. This series is introduced by John Ralston Saul; the narration for this episode is by M.G. Vassanji, the author of seven novels and a biography of Richler, which was published in 2009. Vassanji writes: “[Richler] escaped, discovered himself, and returned, but stayed at an angle with his world, always the exile, the writer.” Vassanji might also be speaking of his own experiences. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Vassanji is a well-known Canadian writer, who has won both the Giller Award twice for fiction and the Governor-General’s Prize for nonfiction. He holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and immigrated to Canada in 1978.
Extraordinary Canadians is a series on CBC-TV looking at the lives of famous Canadians who left a mark on the collective consciousness of our nation. That Mordecai Richler is one of these individuals selected for this series is no surprise; at least not for me, since Richler remains one of my favorite writers, not only for his good use of satire but also because he was an old-fashioned moralist, without any of the encumbrances and unpleasantness of religion or of modern secular ideology that reduces man to non-importance, or at least secondary status.
Richler’s novels explore the corruption of values, which make them timely even more than 15 years after his death (July 3, 2001) at the age of 70. Richler's writings will likely remain timely for a number of years. His work was borne of his growing up in Montreal’s Jewish community during the post-war period, a city which although he left physically for many years, the city never left him. Montreal of a certain period was forever in his memory, as was the environs of St. Urbain Street.
Montreal, like Canada itself, is often a place that many appreciate from a distance. It is often important for writers to get some distance from his subject, and for Richler it was the city of Montreal, the province of Quebec and the country called Canada. Even so, as Richler matured, so did his novels, becoming more universal. Again, we return to old-fashioned morality, so lacking today in public discourse. This is not the same as religious morality, although at times the two might overlap.
The above two-minute clip is a short introduction to Mordecai Richler; you can view the full show [here].