Solomon Gursky Was Here Misc. Supplies – Jun 4 1990
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Bathroom walls, highway rock faces, and school desks often bear the simplest of human marks: X was here. Name, action, location: simple. However, anyone following such a trail--say, Mordecai Richler's protagonist Moses Berger--meets a fundamental problem. Solomon Gursky Was Here, but now he's not. Where is he now?
Biographer and boozer Moses Berger, the son of a failed poet, develops a lifelong obsession with Solomon, the black sheep of the rags-to-riches Gursky dynasty, whose history is inseparable from the rise of the Canadian nation. An ambitious gambler, autodidact, and daring lover, Solomon disappeared in his solo plane just as the family business shifted from midnight bootlegging to a multifaceted commercial empire. It may be that Solomon decided to leave his brothers (scheming Bernard and bumbling Morrie) behind to chase the major events of 20th-century history. Perhaps, like Ephraim, his forger-explorer-preacher grandfather, Solomon has returned to the solitude of the Arctic. Or he may have been murdered by his cunning brother Bernard: "Dig deep enough into the past of any noble family and there is a Bernard at the root. The founder with the dirty fingernails. The killer."
Sprawling across continents and generations, this quasi-biblical--or, better, Godfather-esque--epic is fundamentally concerned with greed. Power, money, flesh, and attention all tempt the innumerable characters in a wicked tale of adoration and betrayal. More fantastical than any of Richler's other novels, this shimmering web of disappearance and deception questions the wisdom and even the viability of any sort of loyalty. --Darryl Whetter --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A brilliant but alcoholic biographer obsesses over Solomon Gursky, the outrageously daring bootlegger grandson of legendary lecher and arctic explorer Ephraim Gursky. PW said that the author's fifth novel brims "with sardonic humor, antic imagination and bravura storytelling skill. . . . A perfect, irreverent take on all levels of Canadian society."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Mordecai Richler has given us an astonishing and riveting account of one of these wanderers as he might have appeared in North America. As a child, Montrealer Moses Berger encounters the Gursky family. It's the first step in what will become an almost heroic quest for the truth behind the Gursky family's shadowy ancestor, Ephraim Gursky and the grandson, Solomon, who accompanied him on a journey in Canada's North. Ephraim, against all reason, apparently shipped aboard the HMS Erebus with John Franklin's ill-starred expedition into the Arctic. Richler demonstrates the Christian attitude toward the Jews with accounts of the many searchers for Franklin's remains. Those necrophiles uniformly scoffed at the notion a Jew could have been aboard, let alone survived, since "all know" these urban dwellers wouldn't have the fortitude or presumption to attempt such a feat. The evidence, however, suggests . . .
Richler has woven a rich tapestry with this mixture of invention and history. He does it so well that separating the threads of fact and fiction becomes an insurmountable task. And why not? He's given us a unique picture of the world's second largest nation. A fresh picture indeed, given that the nation of "two solitudes" conveniently forgets those of its number who are neither English nor French. If Ephraim Gursky sailed with Franklin and initiated a dynasty of Inuit Jews with such names as Gor-ski, Girskee, or Goorski. They wander, like their mentor, into the southern lands wearing, against all reason [again!] Jewish prayer shawls. They seem as homeless as their cantor, fulfilling, even in these outlandish circumstances, the Christian prejudice against wandering Jews.
Homeless he may be, but rootless the Wandering Jew is not. No matter where they settled, the Jews brought an endless capacity for adaptation, seizing whatever opportunities emerged to assist in their survival. Wherever they settled, they viewed it as "the next best place". The homeland of Israel remained within their consciousness, but they would do the best they could in whichever land they occupied. In the Gursky's case, circumstances kept opportunity at bay until Americans, in a flush of Protestant fervour, enacted Prohibition, almost certainly one of the least honoured pieces of federal legislation ever enacted. This was the moment the Gursky clan was able to seize, starting from minimal beginnings to emerge as a mighty empire built from alcohol. Richler has again merged fantasy with reality as his account of this aspect of the Gursky family would be better spelt "Bronfman".
Mordecai Richler's inventive mind and well-honed writing skills have provided us with a true masterpiece. He knows people, certainly the Montreal Jewish community, but far beyond that urban confine also. He takes us to the Arctic, the Prairies, flirts with England, pokes into America. The only missing scene is Van Dieman's Land [Tasmania], where Ephraim Gursky arrived as a transportee only two years before Franklin arrived as governor. These, however, are simply locations in which Richler can place his people. His cast is enormous, but he handles the lot with unmatched skill, presenting every persona as fully credible. We may not know the Jewish community intimately, but reading this book is an excellent means of viewing that community and how it sees the world. Moses Berger's quest for the Gursky story makes him the pivot around which this superb novel orbits as he encounters the key players in the story - especially the Wandering Jew.
It's good to see this book restored back in print. That gives more people an opportunity to comprehend Richler's absolute mastery of story-telling and conveying moods. He remains Canada's leading writing talent. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
While he was writing it, Richler famously said that it was a long, convoluted novel that he could shaft with a review far more scathing than anything he was likely to see once it was published. And many people complain that it's difficult to follow, but that's balderdash. Anyone who pays attention can follow it all without problem. I see the same charge leveled against Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Whenever anyone writes a book with a large cast, the whining starts: it should have been shorter, with fewer characters. I say the opposite: when you pen one delicious paragraph after another like Richler or Atwood, just keep it coming. Pile it on. How sad when it comes to an end.
This is the closest thing we have to the Great Canadian Novel (in English). The cast of characters, the action that sweeps down through the ages through all regions of the country, the ambitions, the losses, the tragedies, the very largeness and brashness of it all - it's as though Richler invented a whole mythology for Canada in one fell swoop. Such was not his intention, I'm sure, but the novel nonetheless has a huge sense of the country and its people. A beautiful piece of work. Five stars.
Well quite simply Richler has made the book far too grandiose in scope. He introduces too many characters, too many disconnected scenes, and the overall focus of the story becomes clouded over long before the end. While there are a good many interesting elements and characters to enjoy, and Richler's prose is as fine as ever, the book compares badly to his later works (such as Barney's Version). 'Solomon Gursky...' is a clear example of where less would have been more.
Bottom line: Richler goodness is largely wiped out by this overly long and complex saga. For die-hard Richler fans only.
I found the modern story (1990 modern) the poorer but maybe people who are Jewish would be more interested. The character was not an inspiring sort and he was trying to trace a Canadian family to the adventurer who founded its fortune.
The past character, Solomon Gursky, heads off on a ship to the frozen north. He and his friend bring aboard approved foods so they can keep to their kosher diet. When the ice-stranded crew is freezing to death and running out of food I thought it improbable that they were unable to find the stash of secret foods. One of the crew shoots a polar bear and a few of the desperate men cut it open and eat some raw liver, promptly dying of vitamin A poisoning.
Trekking through the wilderness seeking help, the men see a raven and the Jewish men think of a prophet being led by a raven to help. One of the crew shoots the raven. Then they meet the local tribespeople, and find that shooting a raven is considered bad luck.
Meanwhile back in modern day, the protagonist goes to the theatre to watch his girlfriend and is not impressed. This anecdote is based on a real incident which I had read in the Independent newspaper in Ireland some time previously. According to the paper, actress Pia Zadora was starring in a Los Angeles production of 'Anne Frank' and on the opening night she was so bad, that when the Nazis came knocking on the door, the entire audience shouted 'She's in the attic!' Having read this left me underwhelmed by the theft of the story for a poorer version in this book.
I thought the editing could have tightened up the tale and improved it that way, but it was a good introduction for me into lifestyles of which I knew little.