Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mordecai Richler: Last of the Wild Jews (2011)

Mordecai Richler: Last of the Wild Jews (2011): The scriptwriter is Charlie Foran; the director Francine Pelletier. Here is a short clip. As for the title, it is a nod to Isaac Babel [1894–1940], the writer from Odessa and the first modern “wild Jew.” In comparison to Babel, it appears that Richler was less wild and better able to direct his prodigious talents. If only Babel had been born in Montreal, his future would have been better, more secure.

In Last of the Wild Jews (2011), made a decade after the Montreal writer’s death, the implicit question raised are the chief influences on Mordecai Richler [1931–2001], those that formed the man and writer that he famously became. The answer, like so many such questions, can be found in his early childhood, in the streets in which he grew up, the streets of St. Urbain, in the period before and after the Second World War. As an English-speaking Jew, Richler straddled the two solitudes of English and French Montreal (an expression made famous by Hugh MacLennan’s 1945 novel, which we read in high school). These experiences formed many of his views of the world, as they did for me growing up on Park Avenue, a few blocks from St. Urbain in the same Mile End neighbourhood. (Yes, to be sure, the back streets and alleyways, also called lane-ways played a role.) It also made him an honest witness, which made him unpopular with the rich and dominant classes and popular with the outsiders, those who identified as true what he wrote and said. It is equally true that Richler’s satire was biting and humorous; and in its writing and publishing he articulated, both in his novels and in his essays, what many who were from the third solitude keenly felt. He was a true Montrealer.

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