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The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Me
on September 22, 2015
For a long long time I wanted to read Duddy.
A million years back I saw the film, and was okay with it.
But Duddy still beckoned to me, for literally decades and decades.
So finally I jumped into the life and times of the young Mr. Kravitz and came away with one big huge meh.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was written by late Canadian icon Mordecai Richler and is considered by many to be a classic. Richler never truly admitted, far as I know, that Duddy was largely him, but I could see it being very truth.
My chief exposure to Richler was from his media appearances over the years talking about politics and culture, saying things that often infuriated the Quebec separatists and several others. His feisty nature was interesting and his intelligence, combined with an analytical wit, made Richler an important voice to be listened to.
But back to Kravitz, the maybe alias of Richler.
Duddy Kravitz is the tale of a teen boy in late 1940’s Montreal who wants to be a somebody, a somebody with money and power, because then he will get respect, from the community but mostly from his family.
To this end, Duddy is constantly running schemes legal and illegal, all to make lots and lots of money. This, along with a smart mouth and a bad attitude, gets him into loads of trouble. Once out of high school, Duddy keeps his plans agoing and suddenly comes upon the grandest plan of them all, this time involving land. This begins a rather lengthy quest to gain ownership of this land, by hook or by crook. And of course bad consequences.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz has two strikes against it and one strike for it from my reading.
Duddy Kravitz is very very very unlikable. Almost everything about him is rude and immature and annoying and obnoxious. If you met him in real life, the impulse to smack Kravitz would be overwhelming. A few times you might feel sorry for him, but these are fleeting and does not excuse his jerkiness. If Richler was like this when younger, you have empathy for all who knew him.
The novel itself is very very very jumpy. Each part has the feel of a vignette that just tells a mini story of whatever Kravitz’s latest venture or adventure is. But quite often these chunks do not connect well, or just very awkwardly. For instance, the story thread of his movie making business clunks along and barely holds any kind of narrative together. The whole book almost seems like Richler could not decide what the process of the journey should be, and threw everything at it hoping for the best.
The interesting part for me was the glimpse into the time period provided. Duddy Kravitz, his life and pretty much everything, revolves around the working class Jewish community of Montreal in the late 1940’s. For historians and cultural junkies like myself, these bits and pieces are very fascinating. None of this smacks you, it just is. Same as the casual racism towards Duddy because he is Jewish, it is ever present and he knows it. But these elements are intertwined throughout the story, so you still have to survive Duddy and the disconnectedness.
Duddy Kravitz was published in 1959 and has is considered a great Canadian novel to this day, gaining Richler much recognition and a career spanning multiple novels. Some even have Kravitz appearances. In 1974 the film starring Richard Dreyfuss was released, and from what I recall it follows the novel quite closely.
I don’t regret reading this, all because I always wanted to. Even with my disappointment, Duddy is now done and will mostly never really enter my thoughts again. Duddy Kravitz would exclaim “Whaaaaaat?” to this, but he does that all the freaking time anyway. Idiot.