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Solomon Gursky Was Here: Penguin Modern Classics Paperback – Jun 28 2005
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'Acutely provocative ... His most ambitious and most Canadian book.' -- David Bezmozgis
'The wit, depth, and wickedness of this resonant novel suggest a happy synthesis of Dickens, Malcolm Lowry, and Philip Roth ... This is a very fine work.' -- The Times (London)
About the Author
Mordecai Richler (1931-2001) wrote ten novels; numerous screenplays, essays, children's books; and several works of non-fiction. He gained international acclaim with The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was later made into a movie. During his career, he was the recipient of dozens of literary awards, including two Governor General's Awards, The Giller Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Mordecai Richler was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2001.
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Ephraim cuts a trickster figure; a Holy man and polyglot who has been self-employed as both thief and forger. In the Arctic, confronted by the Inuit, he calls forth an "eclipse," thus saving his hide and catapulting to the echelon of deity. He establishes a Jewish sect whose offspring sport parkas with Orthodox markings. He learns Latin, and, in one of the book's more bizarre, and irrelevant, sections, gives the business to the instructor's rigidly Christian wife. Glimpses of Ephraim's life come to us via Solomon, which come to us via Moses Berger, a scholarly alcoholic and philanderer who becomes obsessed with Solomon Gursky after he's killed in a plane crash in the North, perhaps because of some mechanical tampering at the hands of his brother, Bernard.
But is Solomon really dead? We're not certain, and the complex, time-skipping narrative, interlaced with snippets of Yiddish, machinations of bootlegging on the Prairies, Inuit myth, Judaism, a palm-greasing scene set against the backdrop of a fishing expedition in northern New Brunswick, references to Carl Jung, descriptions of nineteenth century London, analyses of human greed, perversion, and corruption, and a thousand other subjects, themes, connections, symbols, asides, etc., takes on a sort of mystery element. Through Berger's research (he is connected to the Gurkys through his father, a failed poet hired by the liquor barons as a speech writer cum cultural advisor, like the Bronfman's hired the poet A.M. Klein), we catch glimpses of Solomon at the Long March, Watergate, Nairobi, Israel, and, of course, the Canadian arctic. Or perhaps it's not really him. Or perhaps his sprit now resides in an arctic raven, a trickster figure in Native myth, playing games on mankind and watching on in amusement. You imagine a plot chalked out on about four dozen blackboards and you wish the first chapter were preceded by a genealogical chart. Solomon Gursky Was Here is outstandingly complex, and you wonder, more than once, in spite of the brainy detail and impressive intellectual workouts, if the narrator knows where he's going.
Many consider this to be Richler's finest novel, and although I would say it's the most remarkable (you can't help but marvel at how much the author knows, and the enormity of the task he's taken on), I enjoyed Barney's Version and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz better, even though, stylistically, Duddy Kravitz isn't even in the same league as Solomon Gursky. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book; I did, but alongside the sections that shone, there were sections unnecessary. Still, I'm giving the book four stars. It took Richler a decade to complete, and he remains, for me, Canada's best and most important writer. Technically, there are others who write as well (Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies), but there is no one more compelling. Although this book is often compared to Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the analogy is fragile; yes, it's generational; yes, it delves into magical realism. But Solomon Gursky Was Here remains unique.
Troy Parfitt, author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
The plot, what little there is of it, is simply about a writer who is researching the Gursky family for a biography. He stumbles through several life times of strange characters and ragamuffins. The weirder the better and the rogues make for a interesting read.
This book is entertaining, but I was hoping for something more from a master like Richler. I found the combination of immorality and religion a disturbing pair. I strained myself to think that a subplot could be the love of god for his chosen people despite the ne'er-do-well nature of some of the rascals depicted in this book. Still, it was a good read and a picture into the Montreal Jewish culture.
The structure of the novel is very interesting. It is a long series of unfolding scenes with later ones informing and shedding light on earlier ones. Richler is undoubtedly a master of his craft and his language is of the highest literary kind. It is not an easy read but a rewarding one nevertheless. If you liked his two novels "Barney's Version" and "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz", both of which were turned into movie pictures, this one will just captivate you. I know that these brief lines will not do justice to this very complex novel which masterfully evokes the mythical spirit of the Canadian North but I hope this review would be helpful
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