The Canadian Jewish novelist and gadfly Mordecai Richler, who died in 2001, was renowned internationally for books such as “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “The Street,” “Solomon Gursky Was Here,” and an anthology, “Writers On World War II,” all available from Penguin Canada.
Yet Richler’s fiercely outspoken personality seems to fascinate posterity as much as his writings do, as Michael Posner’s 2005 book “The Last Honest Man: Mordecai Richler, An Oral Biography” from McClelland & Stewart testifies. Now a more formal, thoroughly researched biography from McGill-Queen’s University Press, “Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain” by Reinhold Kramer has appeared, explaining how Richler managed to irritate his compatriots, Jews and antisemites both, so much that he even received hate mail at a Montreal hospital while he was dying of cancer.
“Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain” explains that the writer rebelled against his “fierce, hot-tempered” Orthodox Jewish paternal grandfather, while his maternal grandfather, the legendary scholar Rabbi Yehudah Yudel Rosenberg inspired love and respect. Torn between these two emotional extremes, Richler abandoned Orthodoxy, but was active in the local Habonim movement.