Mordecai Richler: Beyond words

By Ashliegh Gehl

It was a mandatory read in secondary school. Great literature, the educator called it, passing out used books with creased covers and dog-eared pages. Some books were graffitied with the names of previous borrowers, others were marked with profanity.

It was The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and it was a boring read. Just as boring as Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaiden’s Tale, and Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World— both books being mandatory reads.

On the chalkboard the educator listed highly subjective and ideological words the late Mordecai Richler wanted students of literature to learn; the symbolism in Duddy Kravitz.

In no way was Richler’s work viewed as, “a remarkable testimony to the immigrant experience, particularly the Jewish immigrant experience, in Montreal in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,” in the classroom; a statement on a petition currently passing hands in Montreal.

“More than 2,500 fans of Mordecai Richler have signed a petition calling on the City of Montreal to name a public space in honour of the late author prior to the 10th anniversary of his death,” reports the CBC.

It is not that Richler’s work was caught in the doldrums of boredom, but that it was taught to adolescence lacking the worldview needed to put the book into perspective. That, and maturity. Of course there were some who basked in the unfavourable light of mandatory reads, and they most likely went on to pursue English degrees.

Being slightly bookish in nature, it was only a couple years later that Richler, Atwood and Huxley resurfaced on the reading agenda. And this time, two of three made for highly enjoyable reads; Richler being one of them.

One thing is for certain. Writers are no longer romanticized like they once were. To some degree, they have lost their godliness. It went the way of the Beats.

To read CBC reporting about the citizens of Montreal stepping forward with petition in hand, to recognize the great literary works of Richler, gives a pinch of faith.

As the CBC reports, renaming the Mile End Library in Montreal after Richler is the most popular and well receipted idea. The library is in the neighbourhood where Richler grew up.

Be it a park, a street or a library that is being renamed, the most important element of all is recognizing who existed, what the person did, and where.

As obvious as it may seem, it is easy to forget who walked the streets before us. Or who brewed creativity in their bedrooms, throwing ink onto the paper, producing some of the best literature Canada has to offer.

Changing the name of a library, to honour Richler’s lifelong servitude to the written word, is the least Montrealer’s can do.


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