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Mordecai Richler (BBHS ’48)

 1931, Montreal, Quebec – 2001, Montreal, Quebec

Mordecai Richler was born to an orthodox Jewish family in Montreal. His religious upbringing would later influence much of his literature. In 1948, during his time at BBHS, Richler served as class president Richler attended Sir George Williams University for two years but felt constrained by the academic environment. He was uninspired by his studies and longed to break free of his provincial life and pursue a career as a writer.

In 1949, after a brief stint on the staff of the Montreal Herald, Richler began traveling in Europe and eventually spent an extended time in Paris, where he published his first piece of fiction, Shades of Darkness (Three Impressions) in the literary magazine Points. Encouraged by this early success, Richler also worked on the manuscript for a novel, The Acrobats, about a wandering Canadian idealist inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. He returned to Montreal in 1951 when he ran out of funds but moved to London in 1954 when The Acrobats was published.

Richler lived in London until 1972 during which time he wrote many of his novels. He published his breakthrough work, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, in 1959. Set in Montreal, the novel explored the rise of an ambitious young Jewish man determined to be successful. This book was praised by critics, and eventually became part of the modern canon of Canadian literature. Richler also established his reputation as a screenwriter for television and film during this period.

Richler’s other notable works include Joshua Then and Now, Barney’s Version, Solomon Gursky Was Here, and Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang which won the first Ruth Schwartz Children’s Book Award in 1976. His novels gained international attention and he is known as one of Canada’s most accomplished authors.

Although he enjoyed uninterrupted success after The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Richler became known as a humorist and social commentator in the last decade of his career. In addition to his regular essays in Maclean’s, he published humorous and nostalgic pieces in magazines and journals ranging from Playboy to Atlantic to the New York Times Book Review. A lengthy piece he published in the New Yorker, however, gained Richler the most attention with its examination of the attempts to restrict the use of the English language in public places in Quebec.

The following excerpts from Richler’s 1984 Home Sweet Home and Charles Foran’s Mordecai: The Life & Times. (Toronto: A.A. Knopf Canada, 2010) richly describe his formative years in and around BBHS.

Click here to see a selection of his most well-known publications.

SOURCES AND LINKS

Mordecai Richler, The Canadian Encyclopedia
Mordecai Richler Facts, Your Dictionary
Remembering Mordecai Richler, The Mondreal Gazette, 2011
Morechai Richler, Encyclopeadia Britannica
Mordecai Richler, The Jewish Museum of Montreal