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by Sharon Chisvin, November 16, 2010

As part of the new Rady JCC sponsored Tarbut festival of Jewish culture, Noah Richler sat down in Winnipeg on Monday, November 15 to chat about his father, Mordecai Richler, with former Winnipegger Michael Posner. Noah is the youngest of Mordecai’s sons, a writer and founding staff member of the National Post. Posner is a journalist with the Globe and Mail, a playwright and the author of five books, including an oral biography of the elder Richler, entitled All of Me.

Much of the men’s meandering discussion that evening focused on the recently released new biography of Mordecai Richler – Mordecai The Life and Times - written by Canadian journalist and novelist Charles Foran and published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. 

After repeated references to the book, Posner urged audience members to invest in the new biography. Assuming that all those in the audience were fans of the great novelist, his was a wise recommendation.

At more than 700 pages Foran’s biography is long and detailed, but also engaging and entertaining.  It meticulously follows Richler’s life from his childhood in Montreal, to his bohemian days overseas, and his subsequent return to Canada. His relationships with his grandparents, parents, neighbourhood friends and children, his rejection of his orthodox upbringing, his great love affair with his wife Florence, and of course his enviable career as a novelist, essayist, journalist, screenwriter and social critic are all astutely examined.

Richler is perhaps best known for his novels The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which he wrote at age 28, and Barney’s Version, which he wrote almost four decades later and which is being released as a feature film in December. He wrote eight other novels as well, in addition to children’s books, and was the recipient of the Governor General Literary Award, the Giller Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize among numerous other accolades.

Overall Foran provides an intimate and insightful portrait of a great man who was alternately irreverent, curmudgeonly, passionate, controversial, confrontational and intimidating, and who, for years before his death, was already considered the lion of Canadian literature. 

 While Barney Panofsky, the anti hero in Barney’s version famously laments his wasted life, Richler had no reason to do so. This biography makes clear that the life of Barney’s creator was not wasted at all. Although he died almost a decade ago, Mordecai Richler’s work and his life continues to shape Canadian thought and Canadian literature, and continues, according to his wishes, to bear witness.

On another note...

 Israeli journalist Tom Segev’s The Life and Legends of Simon Wiesenthal offers an equally transfixing look at another great man of our times.  In this exhaustive life story, published by Doubleday earlier this fall, Segev provides the first fully documented biography of the controversial but legendary Nazi hunter, examining Wiesenthal’s  motives, passions and actions as he devotes his life to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice and ensuring that their crimes never be forgotten.



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