Mordecai: The Life & Times

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9780676979657: Mordecai: The Life & Times

Foran's book is IT: the definitive, detailed, intimate portrait of Mordecai Richler, the lion of Canadian literature, and the turbulent, changing times that nurtured him. It is also an extraordinary love story that lasted half a century.

The first major biography with access to family letters and archives. Mordecai Richler was an outsized and outrageous novelist whose life reads like fiction.

Mordecai Richler won multiple Governor General's Literary Awards, the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, among others, as well as many awards for his children's books. He also wrote Oscar-nominated screenplays. His influence was larger than life in Canada and abroad. In Mordecai, award-winning novelist and journalist Charlie Foran brings to the page the richness of Mordecai's life as young bohemian, irreverent writer, passionate and controversial Canadian, loyal friend and deeply romantic lover. He explores Mordecai's distraught childhood, and gives us the "portrait of a marriage" — the lifelong love affair with Florence, with Mordecai as beloved father of five. The portrait is alive and intimate — warts and all.
From the Hardcover edition.

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About the Author:

CHARLES FORAN is the author of eight previous books, including the novels Carolan's Farewell and House on Fire, and the award-winning non-fiction work The Last House of Ulster. Born and raised in Toronto, he holds degrees from the University of Toronto and University College Dublin, and has taught at universities in China, Hong Kong and Canada. A former resident of Montreal, where he was a columnist for the Montreal Gazette and reported on Quebec for Saturday Night magazine, he currently resides with his family in Peterborough, Ontario. Of his most recent book, the essay collection Join the Revolution, Comrade, one critic wrote: "Foran takes seriously his role as a writer who's alert and engaged with the world" (Quill & Quire). He has made documentaries for CBC Radio and is a contributing reviewer for the Globe and Mail.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I
—————————
THE REBBE AND THE SHAMMAS

 
 
Of course Rabbi Rosenberg would perform the bris. Who better to welcome the newborn son of Moses and Lily Richler into the covenant? Yudel Rosenberg wasn’t only the family patriarch, who happened to be both a rabbi and a mohel, qualified to do circumcisions; he was the rebbe, as much guru as leader of Montreal’s Hasidic community. They called him the Skaryszewer Illuy, the Genius of Skaryszew. He was a Ba’al Shem, a Master of the Holy Name. Scholar and author, teacher and mystic, Rabbi Rosenberg couldn’t walk down a street in the neighbourhood without people seeking a blessing for their child or a word of comfort for themselves. He couldn’t enter a synagogue without all present standing up out of respect. Nor could the seventy-year-old walk those streets wearing his long beard and fur hat, black coat and white stockings, without also being called a maudit Juif, a damn Jew—or muzhi Zhwiff, to his Yiddish-tuned ears—usually from a passing vehicle. Now semi-retired, the rabbi had suffered a stroke a year before. The illness hadn’t diminished his intellect at all or his stamina by much, but it had left him with muscle tremors.
 
Still, as far as his daughter Lily was concerned, no other mohel need be approached. Five years earlier the rabbi had had a dream in which an old teacher from Poland appeared and declared that Rosenberg’s daughter would bear a son, a child to be named after him. Lily had dutifully called her firstborn Avrum. The same thing happened during the latest pregnancy. Again, the rabbi’s dream prophesied a boy. Again, he should be called after the teacher who had visited Rosenberg in his sleep. This time the name would be Mordecai, known to all Jews from the holiday of Purim and the Book of Esther. Once more Lily agreed without hesitation. Her father was her instructor and idol; he and he alone held full claim to her heart. In effect, he was more than a rabbi and she was more than a respectful daughter. He was the rebbe and she the shammas, caretaker of her illustrious parent.
 
This despite his forcing her to marry a man she did not love, and now held in contempt. The code of Jewish law declares “an ignorant man should not marry the daughter of a priest.” Yudel Rosenberg had made a mistake and Lily Richler, née Rosenberg, was paying for his error.
 
But the bris was hardly the occasion to revisit old sorrows. It took place on Tuesday February 3, 1931, in the north end of the Jewish neighbourhood and in the hollow of the Great Depression. More than two-thirds of Montreal’s 58,000 Jews lived within half a dozen blocks of the Richlers’ second-floor walk-up at 5300 Esplanade. Approximately two miles long by a mile wide, the rectangular “ghetto,” as it was then called, ran from the eastern slope of Mount Royal to a few streets beyond St. Lawrence, a.k.a.“The Main,” and from Sherbrooke Street north to Bernard. A city unto itself, it was entirely immigrant and mostly poor. Sounds and smells, languages spoken and foods cooked, situated the district in some corner of Mitteleuropa, mysteriously transported four thousand miles. Even its appearance—the turrets and spires on its commercial buildings, the Byzantine arches of its synagogues, the citizens in black fur hats and ankle-length coats, curled locks and kerchiefed heads—was more likely to evoke Cracow or Kiev. East of it sprawled an enormous French city, also largely poor, with its own smells and sounds and its own priests and churches. To the west, over the wooded mountain, lived a group who happened to be the wealthiest, most powerful people not only in Montreal or the province of Quebec but also in the country known as Canada. Those people spoke English.
 
In west-of-the-mountain Westmount—as in behind-themountain Outremont, the enclave exception of French-speaking affluence just west of the ghetto—residents lived in brick and stone houses. Often these were grand edifices, with finished basements and backyards. Frequently they were mansions, complete with fairytale towers and Corinthian columns. Everyone else, especially in the tableland called “The Plateau,” lived in apartments. Singular to Montreal were block upon block of uninterrupted residential buildings, two or three storeys high. Each floor constituted a unit, similar in size and design. Outside staircases ran from the upper or middle floor down to the sidewalk; balconies, however small, overlooked the street, with smaller ones facing the back alleys. Shops clung to corners or clustered along commercial avenues. In the French streets, churches and convents of imposingly greater dimensions dwarfed the residences, sometimes consuming entire blocks with their rectories and gardens. In the ghetto, synagogues, mostly modest brick buildings, nestled amidst the apartments.
 
Fitting snugly into the duplexes and triplexes in both French and Jewish districts were families of half a dozen children or more. Decorations may have been sparse, but Plateau apartments were extravagant with people. “Be fruitful and multiply,” admonished the mitzvah. For Catholics, there were similar priestly commands, along with the undeclared turf politics of the province, played out using procreation as a tool. La revanche du berceau, it was called. The revenge of the cradle.
 
At 5300 Esplanade, the furnishings were modest. For Orthodox Jews, a circumcision is equal parts commandment and celebration. The ceremony, often conducted in the home, is simple. Candles are lit and prayer shawls donned. The baby is passed from adult to adult before being held by the sandek, the godparent usually chosen from among the elders. The mohel, not necessarily a rabbi, recites blessings in Hebrew and then performs the brief procedure. Now officially named and blessed, the child is declared brought into the covenant in order to live a life of Torah, full of good deeds, including a worthy marriage. The parents sip wine on behalf of their offspring to commemorate the rite of passage. A meal is laid out.
 
Moses and Lily Richler were the hosts. She was a petite woman, the second-youngest of seven full siblings, and had the Rosenberg family forehead and nose, the dark eyes and thin lips more naturally pursed than smiling. Glasses, thick-lensed and heavyrimmed, obscured her eyes, which were dark and angry—her most striking, if unsettling, feature. Though she had kept her black hair shoulder-length as a child, she now wore it short, parted on the side and often tucked behind the ears. There was no nonsense to her face or hair, or her plain dress. There was no nonsense to her person.
 
Moses Richler, age twenty-nine, was slim and narrowshouldered, slightly below average height for his time. His complexion was swarthier than his wife’s, and his sharp, hawklike features were distinctly of the Richler clan, who tended to have small noses and mouths and burning black eyes. In his father, and in many of his siblings, it was a fierce countenance, as though the bearer was always paying close, skeptical attention, always alert. But in Moses, despite his being the eldest of fourteen, the features transmitted nearly the opposite impression. He was meek and mild and had trouble holding gazes. He had little to say.
 
Unable to make the rent on their previous apartment, Moses and Lily Richler had fled it during the night, their belongings piled in the back of a Model T Ford. The sitting room at 5300 was furnished as befitted a family that might relocate again in haste. Relatives occupied any chairs left over once the four grandparents had been seated, or else stood in the doorway watching. Cakes and lemon tea were served. Conversation was in Yiddish.
 
If Lily’s mood was sombre that day, she had cause. She had borne a second son after a near-fatal miscarriage in 1929. Money, as much as health, had kept her awake with worry during this latest pregnancy. The fee for the obstetrician had been $50, which she had borrowed from an older sister, and she had no idea how they’d settle the bill with Dr. Burgess and the Montreal Maternity Hospital, where Mordecai was born. Moses was being paid irregularly for his work in the family business, and was taking odd jobs to supplement his income, including delivering 50-lb bags of coal up flights of stairs. Now she had two sons to look after, and a father who required her care. For his part, amiable “Moe” Richler may have tried countering his wife’s intensity with a few jokes, his sense of humour lively but odd. Then he would have retreated to where the children gathered around their zeyda. Rabbi Rosenberg loved his grandchildren as much as they loved him. He dangled his white beard over their faces. He made drawings of men with long beards to give as gifts. His own offspring, eleven in total, were grown up and gone—gone from their parents’ home, aside from the youngest, Abraham-Isaac, a rabbinical student receiving instruction from his own father, and gone, for the most part, from Montreal. Only Lily and her older sister Rifka, or Ruth, were still in the city.
 
Among the children surrounding the old man that afternoon would have been Lily and Moses’ older son, Avrum, and Moses’ youngest brother, David. Avrum was five, David three. The other grandfather, Shmarya Richler, far less warm-hearted or cuddly, was still more prodigious. Moses and David served as bookends to his fourteen, most of whom still lived at home.
 
The marriage of the eldest Richler boy and the youngest Rosenberg daughter had been arranged by their parents back in 1924. From the start the barter had been money for status, security for yiches, the connection with Talmudic lineage prized by Orthodox Jews. Shmarya Richler was a prosperous businessman. He and his...

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Descrizione libro Vintage Books Canada, Canada, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Vintage Canada ed.. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Foran s book is IT: the definitive, detailed, intimate portrait of Mordecai Richler, the lion of Canadian literature, and the turbulent, changing times that nurtured him. It is also an extraordinary love story that lasted half a century. The first major biography with access to family letters and archives. Mordecai Richler was an outsized and outrageous novelist whose life reads like fiction. Mordecai Richler won multiple Governor General s Literary Awards, the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, among others, as well as many awards for his children s books. He also wrote Oscar-nominated screenplays. His influence was larger than life in Canada and abroad. In Mordecai, award-winning novelist and journalist Charlie Foran brings to the page the richness of Mordecai s life as young bohemian, irreverent writer, passionate and controversial Canadian, loyal friend and deeply romantic lover. He explores Mordecai s distraught childhood, and gives us the portrait of a marriage the lifelong love affair with Florence, with Mordecai as beloved father of five. The portrait is alive and intimate warts and all. From the Hardcover edition. Codice libro della libreria BZV9780676979657

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Descrizione libro Vintage Books Canada, Canada, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Vintage Canada ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. Foran s book is IT: the definitive, detailed, intimate portrait of Mordecai Richler, the lion of Canadian literature, and the turbulent, changing times that nurtured him. It is also an extraordinary love story that lasted half a century. The first major biography with access to family letters and archives. Mordecai Richler was an outsized and outrageous novelist whose life reads like fiction. Mordecai Richler won multiple Governor General s Literary Awards, the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, among others, as well as many awards for his children s books. He also wrote Oscar-nominated screenplays. His influence was larger than life in Canada and abroad. In Mordecai, award-winning novelist and journalist Charlie Foran brings to the page the richness of Mordecai s life as young bohemian, irreverent writer, passionate and controversial Canadian, loyal friend and deeply romantic lover. He explores Mordecai s distraught childhood, and gives us the portrait of a marriage the lifelong love affair with Florence, with Mordecai as beloved father of five. The portrait is alive and intimate warts and all. From the Hardcover edition. Codice libro della libreria BZV9780676979657

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